Asperger’s, LD organization celebrates 35th year

(Photo contributed) Dr. Michael McManmon, center left, and his son, Daniel McManmon.

LEE — An organization focused on helping young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and other learning differences define the path to their futures is celebrating its 35th anniversary.

Through a ceremony held last week, College Internship Program (CIP) Berkshire celebrated its 35th anniversary at its headquarters in Lee. CIP Berkshire was founded as the Transitional Apartment Program in 1984 by Dr. Michael McManmon with an ability-based model. The organization’s full-year post-secondary programs provide academic, social, career and life skills support, so that students can create a vision for what it is they want in their lives, said McManmon.

In addition to lauding the organization, the ceremony also recognized its founder for five decades of service in helping young adults with autism and learning differences achieve success, said Daniel McManmon, president of the organization and Michael McManmon’s son.

“Michael has spent the last 50 years mentoring our incredible young adults, their families, and our staff. He serves as a business owner, director, international presenter, therapist, educator, gardener, and even maintenance man,” said Daniel at the ceremony. “He has shaped our industry through innovation and sheer passion.”

CIP Berkshire empowers its students to become self-aware, self-accept and self-determined, Daniel added. That empowerment, Daniel says, is something his father understands firsthand. In 2001, McManmon was diagnosed by a member of his staff with autism spectrum disorder.

He later received a formal diagnosis by a psychologist in Florida with Asperger’s Syndrome.

“My life was very narrow in scope before my diagnosis. I was unable to socialize, use eye contact, work in groups well, try new things, or listen to people’s advice,” said McManmon.

When the program was first established, the organization had a three-member staff that served three to four students. The organization filled the need for community-based programming and housing for young adults with learning and emotional difficulties.

Now, the organization spans serves 155 students across five sites in Lee, Indiana, Florida, New York and California. There are also approximately 135 members on its staff.

“The program was always ability-focused because I saw little value in the medical model that simply saw everyone as diseased and needing medicine. This focus places the student in an environment where he/she is empowered to become a self-change agent. To accept responsibility for themselves,” said McManmon.

Prior to the founding of organizations like CIP Berkshire, students were often locked away and were not allowed to show any differences to others, he added.

But that perspective and approach is changing.

More research and efforts to understand autism spectrum disorder have been made by organizations like The Autism Society, which launched a nationwide effort to promote awareness, inclusion and self-determination for everyone with autism spectrum disorder more than 25 years ago. An estimated one in 59 births in the U.S. have autism spectrum disorder, according to The Autism Society.

“The field has moved toward our philosophy, but there are still counter-insurgent movements that want to turn back the clock and medicate the world,” said McManmon.

Over the years, young adults with learning and emotional difficulties have been more integrated into the community, work and school through organizations like CIP Berkshire, he said. And the development of cyber support systems have further allowed that integration.

As an organization, McManmon has attended and spoken at conferences all over the world to advocate for the need for that shift and future evolution. And that’s not stopping any time soon.

“Most importantly, (it’s important for people with autism and learning differences) to know that they are not diseased, disturbed, disabled, but they simply are different learners who have assets way beyond the norm and also deficit areas they can learn to remediate and that become a source of strength,” he said. “In short: they were ‘made for good purpose’ and are inherently valuable.”

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