Established in 2015, Meristem is a multi-year transitional program dedicated to preparing young adults ages 18-28 on the autism spectrum to build a strong sense of self, develop an enhanced social capacity and create a life of increased social and economic independence. “One in 36 children is diagnosed on the autism spectrum, so there is great need for assistance to help them live safely and independently and to achieve fulfilling connections and positions in our communities,” says Executive Director Erin Schirm.
Students come from across the nation and reside on Meristem’s 13-acre campus along the American River Parkway in Fair Oaks. The campus dorms accommodate 50 participants, but Meristem also accepts day students for a total of 60 participants in the program. Meristem’s program and dedicated instructors enable students to learn life skills or job skills or both, working toward living independently, taking college courses or securing jobs. Their growth is tracked through individual support plans and their goals are adjusted based on their progress.
“Our program helps students connect with themselves and ultimately connect with others and with the world,” Schirm says. “On their journeys to independence, they may learn things that many of us take for granted such as taking public transportation, grocery shopping and doing laundry. Classes are designed to give them a breadth of humanity and community participation and range from driver’s education and work skills to culinary arts and land stewardship.”
“One in 36 children is diagnosed on the autism spectrum, so there is great need for assistance to help them live safely and independently and to achieve fulfilling connections and positions in our communities” — Erin Schirm Executive Director
The classes as well as internships with community businesses and organizations help improve students’ critical skills of focusing, organizing, empathy, regulating emotions, self-monitoring, confronting failure and reflecting upon the process. Each of these skills transfers directly to the student’s long-term goals of college, employment and/or independent living.
“Our goal is that every one of our students attains self-sufficiency upon graduation,” Schirm says. “We invite the community to learn more about our program and join us in our mission.”