My name is Anna Berman. I am a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pursuing a BS in psychology and a minor in Neuroscience. I am from Fishers, Indiana but set my sights on UNC-CH for its amazing Psychology program and its leading academic and research programs focused on Autism Spectrum Disorder. Through the Gil internship, I have the honor of being involved in a unique opportunity as an intern at The Carolina Living and Learning Center, a residential center for adults with autism.
I first learned about autism in intermediate school when introduced to my classmate, Jake. Jake continued to be in my classes throughout middle and high school and was one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. His untimely death had a huge impact on the community. Due to Jake’s influence, I focused on ASD for my AP Capstone research project, developing and conducting a study on parent and teacher opinions about what high school should look like for students with autism. This project strengthened my interest in research on Autism Spectrum Disorder and in pursuing Psychology academically.
Since my first year at Carolina, I have been involved with the UNC TEACCH Autism Program. UNC TEACCH is a world-renowned program that creates and provides services, training programs, and research to enhance the quality of life for individuals with ASD and their families. I began at TEACCH as an intern with Clinical Services working with children participating in clinical diagnostic evaluations. Last year, as a research assistant in the TEACCH Research Lab, I began assisting with the research on a new intervention program titled T-STEP (TEACCH – School Transition to Employment and Post-secondary Education).
The UNC TEACCH Carolina Living and Learning Center is a residential center for adults with Autism who require continuous, 24/7 care. This center is a beautiful, peaceful farm landscape with 2 houses, 2 gardens, and a pond. There are 15 clients who reside at the center. In my first few weeks interning at the center, I have spent the majority of my time in one of the houses where 5 clients reside. Here, the staff and residents work hand in hand. In the morning, everyone puts on their work boots, hats, and sunscreen to take part in activities and tasks on the farm, whether it’s raking grass or weeding the gardens. Before lunch clients and staff head inside to prepare lunch as a group. Residents help out as much as they are able. Some set the table, some pour drinks, and some help staff prepare the food. As an intern, I immediately witnessed how the center’s mission of collaboration and development of independent skills is put into practice around-the-clock. Even though independent living is not the expectation for any of the residents, staff work diligently to set reachable goals for each individual. Everyone has rewards unique to their interests to help motivate them in their goals of hygiene, work, and communication skills. All behaviors, from food intake to aggressive acts, are meticulously tracked to ensure every client’s program is working for them.
As I continue my internship at the center, I hope to be more involved in this tracking and taking of psychology notes on the residents. I have only worked there a few weeks, but I love coming in and being greeted by the residents in their own ways, whether it’s with a polite handshake, a quiet hello, or with several eager questions about what I have “been up to” since the last time I was there.
I came to UNC with a passion for working with people diagnosed with Autism and in just one month, the Gil internship and the Carolina Living and Learning Center have solidified my academic and career path goals. I am so grateful to have been provided with the opportunity to work directly with the residents and to feel a part of a staff that is truly dedicated to maximizing the quality of life for these individuals every day.