Some of Otsego Academy's goals are to encourage our students to be self-advocates and to gain confidence as public speakers. In November 2023, the students attended the National Down Syndrome Society's Adult Summit in Cincinnati, where they were featured speakers before a national audience on Transition Planning.
The National Down Syndrome Society’s Adult Summit is an annual conference that focuses on independent adult living for individuals with Down syndrome. Participants learn about networking, independent living, employment options, and how to navigate the world of “adulting.” At the same time, parents and professionals in the field can participate in presentations on the topics of education, healthcare, and employment to gain a better understanding of the world of developmental disabilities and the possibilities for increased independence.
Our Experience: This November, Otsego Academy participated in the conference for the first time. We took a road trip to Cincinnati and spent a day taking in all of the sights! We explored the city and the Newport Aquarium; we also dined at several restaurants and saw the holiday display at Fountain Square.
On the first day of the Adult Summit, our five Otsego Academy students, along with our Senior Director of Education and Post-Secondary Programs Coordinator, presented on the topic of Transition Planning. We shared information about Pathfinder Village, our surrounding community, and details about Otsego Academy, our two-year post-secondary transition program for young adults with developmental disabilities. We spoke at length about the skills individuals need to live more independently as adults: managing daily schedules and tasks, developing personal hygiene and safety awareness skills, maintaining academic achievement, and participating in hands-on employment training through community-based internships.
The students then shared their personal journeys of transitioning into adulthood. They took turns explaining their decisions to attend Otsego Academy, the challenges and opportunities they have faced, and their future hopes and dreams. While the students were very nervous to speak in front of an audience, they remained poised and professional and we were all impressed with how well they did!
Over the next several days, students and staff participated in presentations and classes to learn more about wellness programs that have been developed for individuals with special needs, advocacy groups promoting disability rights, and in-depth information about organizations with missions to assist individuals with developmental disabilities live meaningful, active, independent lives. We met some amazing people along the way, including recording artist Arik Ancelin, a young man with Down syndrome who writes and performs rap songs—he has an impressive social media following and has millions of streams on all music platforms.
Our Takeaways: When we returned to Edmeston, we sat down with students and discussed what they had experienced and learned. They agreed that they gained a tremendous amount of confidence—especially in public speaking and networking. The conference included events like a dance, a cocktail hour, and visiting vendor tables—all of which our students had to navigate on their own. Students also loved the classes they attended, with topics ranging from dating, to advocating for yourself at the doctor’s, to incorporating exercise and healthy eating into your everyday routine.
As educators and professionals in the field, we recognized the importance of the experience provided at the NDSS Adult Summit. Students could utilize the skills they had been developing throughout the program in a real-life setting. We also met wonderful advocates in the field who we were able to connect with, which will hopefully one day lead to partnerships and collaborations. Our hope is to make this trip an official part of our program’s Year 2 curriculum so that future Otsego Academy students can benefit as well!