Originally founded by Troy Romero, Transitions is in its seventh year. Romero said it all started by having a conversation with the Autism Action Partnership about the lack of services for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Specifically, those graduating from the K-12 school system.
The Transitions Program is a peer-mediated social learning skills program which provides opportunities for young adults on the autism spectrum to practice and enhance social competencies in structured and unstructured group events on and off the UNO campus.
Romero sought out people across campus to get the program started, collaborating Mitzi Ritzman. Her professional focus in speech-language pathology and autism spectrum disorder was crucial. “It took a lot of work to get it off the ground, and UNO has been a wonderful collaborator.”
There was no real template to go from for young adults so we cultivated one. It was a real team effort.
- Mitzi Ritzman
To Ritzman, Transitions is especially important in order to serve those young adults who struggle to meet the dynamic expectations of life on a college campus or in an employment setting. The organization is constantly improving through data-driven performance evaluation helping to optimize their programs. Transitions is now a resource for community members, families, and students alike on campus.
"It really has helped me learn and be prepared to best help them [Transitions clients] learn."
Not only do the individuals who experience ASD benefit from the program, but so do those who serve as peers. The peers assisting in the program are mostly pre-professionals, psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and graduate students who get to participate in a hands-on learning experience and faculty volunteer their time to the program. Romero and Ritzman believe that Transitions has helped them both to understand how to help students with ASD who are in their classes, as well as direct them to additional resources. The program has helped people with ASD to develop better social skills and to gain more confidence in their ability to be outgoing and utilize those skills with better composure. Romero and Ritzman believe that Transitions has helped them both to understand how to best serve the students on the autism spectrum.
“It has grown into a really wonderful program and to see that growth has been rewarding.”
The Transitions Program is also a UNO-based Building Partner Organization housed in the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center, allowing them to collaborate with other organizations bringing new opportunities to their members.
Troy Romero, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the College of Public Affairs and Community Service, Goodrich Scholarship Program, where he teaches Autobiographical Reading and Writing, humanities, and Lifespan Development. He also teaches in the Psychology Department, where he earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, and he is a faculty member of the Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS). His research interests include organizational justice, organizational diversity, identity development, stereotype threat, and intellectual/developmental disabilities such as autism. He is the Co-Director of the Transitions Program.
Mitzi J. Ritzman, Ph.D., CCC-SLP is an Associate Professor in the College of Education, Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders. Her primary areas of interest are autism spectrum disorder, language and literacy, at-risk populations, and best practices in service delivery. She is the Co-Director of the Transitions Program.