Interview with Alex Johnson, ScenicView Academy
August 3, 2020
Dr. Gwen: Hi, I'm Dr. Gwen. Welcome to my channel where I curate tools, share mindsets, and promote habits to help neurodiverse individuals thrive. If this is an interest to you, please consider subscribing to my channel and hitting that notification bell so that you don't miss a thing.
In this video, I interview Alex Johnson, Admissions and Business Development Director of ScenicView Academy, a non-profit school for young adults with autism and learning disabilities in Provo, Utah. With a focus on living, working, and thriving, ScenicView is all about empowering adults to live their most fulfilled lives.
Alex and I explore the power of choice that opportunities provide and how experience is the best teacher. Listen to the full interview to understand ScenicView's approach to developing lifelong systems that promote autonomy and how they help their students find joy in their personal journey to independence. For more detailed information about this interview, check out the timestamps below.
Hi, Alex, welcome. How are you?
Alex: I am good, Gwen. How are you?
Dr. Gwen: Good. Thank you so much for agreeing to come to talk about ScenicView.
Alex: Absolutely. It's my pleasure. Thanks for the invite.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah. So, why don't we start with you telling us about yourself?
Alex: Okay. So, I'm Alex. I have an LCSW degree. So, I started as a therapist working in residential treatment centers. I worked at Provo Canyon School. I'm from the Utah area, so this is my hometown here where ScenicView is located in Provo. And, I received my degree from Brigham Young University and started working in residential treatment and just really jumped in in the Provo Canyon School. I also have some experience working at the Utah State Prison. And, I've just brought that to bear. I've become an admissions director in the last year and a half at ScenicView. And so, I'm using my skills in that way.
At home, I have three young kids, three boys. And, it's a handful, yes.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: But, a lot of fun, a lot of fun. We love it. And, one of my personal interests is men's mental health. It's why I'm bringing that to bear as a parent. I'm sure failing spectacularly but doing the best I can. And, that's something I studied during my master's program and I'm interested in doing the side as a private therapist working with men.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: So, that's just a little bit about me.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah. That prison work is so interesting. I didn't realize that about you. We have that in common. In my practicum years, I was placed in a residential outpatient kind of boot camp program and then I did a round in solitary confinement in Riverside.
Early on in my training, anyway, I really cut my clinical teeth there because you get to see--
Alex: That will do it.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, it will. And, it was awesome. It was an awesome experience. And, it really opened my eyes about how formative our early years are in our relationships with our parents and our communities in any way. So, offline--
Alex: Yeah, I love it.
Dr. Gwen: We'll talk more offline.
Dr. Gwen: I love it. But, it does give you a really nice clinical landscape and background to seeing what people need and seeing what they're coming to you with. Yeah, yeah.
So, you said, you're the admissions director over at ScenicView. And so, really looking at who's appropriate for your program and if the program is right for that person, right?
Alex: Yes. Yeah, actually my--
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah.
Alex: My full title is Admissions and Business Development. And so, it's been exciting. Informally, I'm just really trying to push ScenicView forward. We've been around for 20 years, since 2001. And so, I'm really just trying to push it into that next phase of growth where we have a wonderful program and great campus and great resources that we're looking to expand and grow. And, it's really exciting. So, that's a part of it that I really enjoy along with, of course, the meeting the families and screening the applicants, and helping with that process.
Dr. Gwen: Nice, nice. Well, maybe what we could do now, Alex, is get into ScenicView. And, can you describe ScenicView Academy for people? > Alex: Yes, I can. ScenicView is a non-profit organization that is founded on the principles of helping neurodiverse young adults increase their level of independence. So, we serve 18 to 30-year-olds and we try to create a college campus. We call them students there where they can be empowered to grow in independent living skills. We have really comprehensive independent living curriculum that we teach on this campus and its real-life experience. It's usually a two to three-year process, so almost like a college-length experience to where students can really engage socially with a group they feel comfortable with and just grow from either somewhat independent to really independent or from not so independent to somewhat independent. It depends on where we meet students where they're at and we can serve a variety of clients. But, that's our focus on young adults with autism and learning differences as well. An autism diagnosis is not required, but that is the groove that's the social setting we're working with.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah. And, do they live on campus, Alex?
Alex: They do. They do. They live on campus. And then, during the third phase of their programming, they live in the community. So, we have an off-campus phase as well. And, that's what it's all about. That's about empowerment and integration into the community into a job, into an apartment. But, initially for the first-- typically about 18 months, they are on campus with us.
Dr. Gwen: It sounds like you, guys, have phases.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah. Can you get into that?
Alex: Yeah, that's the way they look at it.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: Again, it's prescriptive, so it's individualized. And so, it's hard to put a timeline on each of these phases, of course. But, initially, we're looking at bringing someone on into a dorm-like setting. It may be their first time living alone, leaving the nest, right, leaving home. And so, they're coming into a dorm setting where we're teaching them basic foundational skills of what to cook, and how to shop, and budgeting, all of that. And, we can get more into the skill profile later as well.
Then, phase two would be an on-campus apartment living. We actually have apartment buildings on our campus. So, then they're like feeling empowered, I'm graduating, I'm on my own in an apartment now even though they're still having a supportive environment around them.
And then, phase three would be moving into the community, into an apartment. But, continuing some context, so we can see, did this stick? Did it work yet? Are you really ready? And, when we have some back and forth at times, the students were like, "Whoa, that was too much." They come back and then go back out.
Dr. Gwen: Nice, nice. And, it just sounds like everything is really focused on that real-time rubber meets the road skill building with the hope of as much independence anyway as possible for that individual, for that student. I love it. I love it.
When they're living in the dorm, Alex, what does that look like in regards to like, is there a structured schedule or classes? How does that look?
Alex: We have an intake schedule and our students come in a cohort together. So, we have intake terms. And so, a student would come in and take two terms worth, which is six months of intake classes, which are foundational. They're attending classes and working actually on campus as well from about 8:00 to 4:00. It's kind of just a standard work schedule but it's broken up with classes and then a three-hour work shift.
And so, it is structured. And, sometimes that can be an adjustment for students as they come in depending on where they've been at home or in a different program, depending on the level of structure there. So, they need some guidance through that, some adjustment to this like daily schedule, waking up at 07:38.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: Checking in with staff, working for a few hours a day. That can be a leap. But, we find it so great for them to jump in. And, the classwork isn't what they think of as classwork, right, it's not academic with homework, and that's not the main focus. They take a transportation class where they go on the bus with their class and the instructor, and they learn that system or they take a cooking class, or they take an internet safety class. So, it's things that are practical in their lives. And, they're hopefully experiencing like, "I can see the need for this, and I see that this is helping me right away."
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: Because then, we get that engagement right off the bat with them.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, yeah, you get that sense of agency where they're driving their own bus, not that we just talked about transportation, but--
Alex: That was a great segue.
Dr. Gwen: They're doing their own thing. So, when you say classes, what that means is they're practical classes?
Dr. Gwen: They're not taking some collegiate classes, getting gen eds under their belt.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: No, we aren't certified to teach educational classes other than, we do some tutoring and we do one-on-one for high school equivalency stuff. And then, we do college support. So, we do have an education that's tailored to the individual, maybe a one-on-one math if they're struggling with some of those basic concepts that are going to help them.
Many of our students are attending college concurrently with our program or attending a technical school as well. So, we can support that with our teachers that we have on staff, but the classes I'm talking about are really independent living curriculum like you said.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, that's great. So, there is the opportunity for people to take college classes while they're in your program because you can support them there. What I love is that your program sounds very laser-focused on the practical skills that adults need, any adult needs to live a life independently and joyfully.
Dr. Gwen: I don't know if you see this. I just find that sometimes we overlook like all the simple little things that we do, like getting ready, like being able to feed ourselves, like being able to get ourselves from point A to point B, and those are the skills that really feed our self-concept and self-esteem.
Dr. Gwen: We know we can do those things and we can rely on ourselves.
Yeah. And, I think we just sometimes don't realize that. Are you there? > Alex: We take for granted. Absolutely.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, yeah, we do take that for granted.
Alex: We bring in to mind a class we teach that's called life systems. And, it's a great kind of behavioral approach where we have... ...an instructor who really has taken this concept of systems creating systems for our students.
Dr. Gwen: Yes.
Alex: Because that's what it is. They know. They have the skills and the cognitive ability to do these things. Any of our students can come in and do laundry. It's not hard for them to understand how. But, sometimes if they don't do laundry, so they're discovering, well, why not? And, one of the reasons we found especially with folks on the spectrum is they just don't have that in their routine, they don't have it built into the system, so they don't have the confidence that they can do it, right? They don't feel powered. But, as soon as they break down the steps and see, "Oh, if I know that I'm doing this every Tuesday at this time and I know it's built into my system and I have a prompt that I'm going to set an alarm on my phone or I'm going to hang this sign by my door, then that becomes a trigger for me to have the system."
And, our students are great. And, we know this about people on spectrum, they're great at following that system. So, we're talking about life system creation. And, by the end, when they're independent with it, they can say, "Oh, okay, I have this new job and I know I need to change something in my system." So now, I have the skills to go on and think, "Okay, what do I need to change? This is my new routine." It actually causes a flexibility that is cool to see in our students that they learn this skill.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah. And, I think that's actually really sophisticated because whenever you look at even the habit formation literature research, it's really about creating routines and systems more so about the habit itself. And so, how do you do that? And, you're right like our populations, our tribe-- Routinization is a phenomenal hack.
Dr. Gwen: And so, being able to do that really can ensure that it's getting put into their life so that they're living as healthy and as safe as possible. You know what I mean?
Dr. Gwen: That's fantastic. I love that. I love that class. I should come take that class.
Alex: I know. It's been super helpful. I've sat in on some classes. And, we can make that one-on-one too. So, sometimes that instructor will be assigned to an individual student who's struggling with a particular behavior.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: Or, a particular issue and it can be really laser-focused on like, "Okay, they need this skill." So, instead of just teaching them that skill in this environment, though, I'm going to teach them how to create a system, so they know how to use that skill, right? Because then, that becomes the macro skill that makes it easier to apply all the other independent living skills. It's pretty cool to see when a student latches on to that for sure.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And, you can just see how that would be really empowering for that student as well. So, that's great.
Alex, what are your staff ratios? I mean, I imagine they're changing, yeah, throughout your phases or as someone's transitioning into let's say, apartment living in the community. But, how does it start? Like, what does a staff ratio look like?
Alex: So, that's a great question. And, ScenicView is unique in some of the staffing systems we use. So, we have someone on campus at all times but because we're kind of a school, none of our classes are over. One of the easy ways to answer, none of our classes have a bigger than a 10 to 1 student to staff ratio. That's the biggest class we ever teach. But then, each student is also assigned a service coordinator and they're also assigned a therapist. So, each of them has two people on their home team so to speak that is really meeting with them on at least a weekly but sometimes more frequent schedule.
And so, we have approximately a one to one ratio if you look at our staff to our students. We have about 55 students right now enrolled. And, we have about 50 staff. And, that doesn't count interns and other people. So, we actually have more people that are on our payroll and on our staff list than we do students. But, how they interact with those is unique. It's one-on-one, but also class based.
Dr. Gwen: Mm-hmm, got it, got it.
Alex: Maybe it needs to clarify more, help me clarify that more if I need to.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, yeah. I'm thinking about some clients that may have never lived on their own before and have the potential for that but really need these systems to be established, maybe even need their narrative to be shifted to-- actually, I can do this. Maybe the family system needs to see their adult child be able to do these things, therefore build trust and let go in whatever way shape.
As a parent-- we're both parents. And, as a parent, I can see how difficult it is to let go if I don't see my child be able to do something that I think they need to be able to do.
Alex: Right, right.
Dr. Gwen: Right. So, to hand them over to a program and know that that program has got them, that they're going to be safe, and that they're going to be building skills that are going to lead to this outcome, whatever that is for that particular student can be really, really helpful. What if a student comes to you and they really actually need quite a bit of help? But, they're not behavioral in any way but they sure need a lot of what I would call external. They need an external executor.
Alex: Yes, yes. Yeah.
Dr. Gwen: How would you handle that kind of--
Alex: Would you see that?
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: Of course, we do. And, even behavioral issues, of course, we see, right? We're screening for severe mental health with this getting in the way of the skill-building. That's not who we do our best work with. And, of course, we're keeping the safety of our students in mind. But, our students are going to have issues with anxiety, and depression, and social concerns that are uncomfortable for the students around them. That's common. And, I guess, I'd start with what our role that we call the service coordinator role.
So, it's like a head mentor, honestly. Mixed with a school counselor kind of thing where this person is helping them develop a transition plan where we're putting the student in the driver's seat and saying, "Hey, in three years, two years, whatever it is where you're at ScenicView, what do you want? What do you need to accomplish? Where do you want to be? Where do you want to be living? What kind of job you want to have?" And then, breaking that down into, "Okay, so we're going to take these classes, we're going to actually assign you to this person because they're great at teaching this." And then, they're the parent contact as well. So, they're giving progress updates to the parent. Okay, in the live classes they took, we have the three programs of live, work, and thrive, which are the three areas that we're helping our students improve in or create independence in.
And so, they're giving updates with the student. They're teaching the student how to communicate their progress to their parent. They're communicating weekly or monthly depending on where the students at in their program about their progress. And, when issues arise like that, we have enough staff that we're able to say, "Okay, we're going to assign a one-on-one for this specific issue" or "We're going to change your schedule around a little bit because this isn't working," so we're prescribing it. And, the service coordinator is the key to that process.
And, we really like the word "mentorship."
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: We found that a lot of our students are really craving that and really respond well to that. So, we do mentor trainings, and we have physicians that are their mentors. They're just filling in the cracks. Maybe we don't teach a subject, but they're there to help a student when they're not feeling motivated. And, they just need to have a conversation or to connect with the goals that they set for themselves and they just need that kind of centering and empowerment that comes with that.
And, when we also have actually, a program that we've started this year called ScenicView Plus. And, this might speak a little bit to this group you're talking about who maybe needs some more support. And, ScenicView Plus is designed with actually a pretty intensive mentoring on a three to one, three students per mentor, or four students per mentor staffing.
So, these are students who maybe are coming from a more structured program or have more needs. And, they typically would have failed out of our program because they couldn't quite hack it in terms of like, now, I'm overwhelmed by this 8:00 to 4:00 schedule and the level of empowerment you're giving me.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: So, we had this level of mentorship wherein they still have a service coordinator, still have a therapist but then they have this extra person who maybe is even between classes being like, "Hey, what did you learn in that class? Talk to me about how you're feeling. Oh, you're feeling a little anxious about this." Or, "I noticed that interaction, socially, with the social coaching, I noticed it seemed like you wanted to get to know that girl a little bit more, but you made her feel a little uncomfortable." and just that level of on the ground observation and mentoring, and oversight.
So, our students have responded well to this that have been in this program. And, it helps them, then really engage initially through that adjustment period. And then, they can typically shed that layer where they don't need that level and then they're in our base program and they're able to just spread their wings and go. But, initially, if they need more support, we also have that layer that we can prescribe to a student.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, that's great.
Alex: So, now that I'm doing that through admissions where I'm like, "Yeah, this person's going to need that mentor." They're going to need that extra support because of mental health concerns, or because of behavioral issues, or just because of lack of motivation. Maybe they have no desire or ability. And, again, that's tough to know where that's coming from when you talk about motivation, right?
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: But, the mentor is able to help that. They're able to really see, "Okay, this student needs this because I'm knowing them, I'm interacting with them all day."
Dr. Gwen: Yup.
Alex: And, when a student has that program, they're receiving mentorship from 7:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night, seven days a week. In addition to our great curriculum, they're getting with our base program. So, it's really a cool aspect for a program we've added this year.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah. And, I think that what's so great is this nod to individualization or tailoring and meeting the student where they are and how challenging I think that transition from home to a collegiate experience. That age group, anyway, this early 20-- late teens, early 20s. That's hard for adults without disabilities let alone now, I've got a lot to bring on.
And then, I also see this cliff of what happens with accommodations and support. So many times, our students are fully supported with wonderful comprehensive systems, but the system never took into account transferring responsibility for advocacy onto the student before they left that system.
And so, now, we're completely--
Alex: Yeah. And, it's almost like the more support they had, the more difficult the transition to ScenicView is, which is not ideal, because we want them to have that support in high school. And, 90% of our students have graduated high school. But, that doesn't always tell the whole story because of those supports you talked about.
Dr. Gwen: Yup.
Alex: Yeah. And so, our best students are coming in and saying, "I did great in high school, but I know that I need this in some way. I know there's some deficit here where maybe I've tried to take college classes and boy, that was a lot different than I thought." Or, "Maybe college is fine but then I tried to add a part-time job and I couldn't manage that with the college." Or, "Maybe someone asked me out and that just threw everything for a loop."
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And, depending on how much support they've had at home or in the classroom or at work even because a lot of our students are coming in with job experience. But, again, that doesn't tell the story because maybe it's a family contact that really didn't supervise them in reality with a real-life work experience.
Dr. Gwen: Yup.
Alex: Which is great, I get to have work experience but we're trying to catch that and create a real-life structured to empowerment-based program where they can leave feeling fully confident that they can ask for the support they need but also, without a comprehensive level of support, they can still survive and thrive. They can do it.
Dr. Gwen: Yup. Yeah, it's kind of filling this gap, that there's this gap where the student hasn't really quite met their potential or they really need just some extra time and focus and specific application of a teaching or intervention to fill the gap for that potential.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, that's lovely. That's lovely. This feels like a natural kind of segue, which is to talk about the ideal or in the pocket student for ScenicView. And, we'll be more general about this obviously. But, when this type of student comes to ScenicView, you just know based on your program that that's where the magic is really going to happen. That's where the two really beautiful things are going to collide and you're going to do what you intended to for your program. What kind of student is that?
Alex: I love this question because I think a lot about this.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And, of course, our students are coming in with the variety, like you said, "We'll get more general." But, I love narrowing it down because we do see this occasionally. And, it's a student who I alluded to before, it's a student who has enough life experience, and that could be just at the home or at a high school. It could be an 18-year-old, right? It doesn't have to be a 25-year-old, although we can do either. But, it's a student who knows the gap that they face. So, they're aware enough or have had enough mentorship and folks supporting them saying, "Hey, you're going to need this to be successful. And, we want you to be successful as an adult."
So, it's not only are they motivated to get those independent living skills, they can articulate and say, "I want to move into my own apartment." Or, "I want to complete this school program, this post-secondary schooling experience. I want to do that." Or, "I want a job." But, not only that, but they know, and I know it's going to be hard for me because of X, Y, Z, so here's what I need to be successful.
And, we have students who do that through amazing parenting and through amazing experiences with that educators in the past who have highlighted and given real feedback to them instead of just, "Oh, you can do it and you'll be great," which we want that message too. It's been an end of-- It's going to be hard because of this.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: So now, because those students come in and they say, "Oh, I love this class now because I can see what it's going to do for me." Right? "I can see why I need that system." Or "I can see why I need more help with budgeting." So, that's maybe the first thing I'd say, is those students who come in with that combination of experience and awareness, they just fly in our program because we don't have to spend the time to say "No, you do need this," or we don't have them to have them get their lumps on campus, we can just launch, right?
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And, of course, we're designing a campus to where it can be safe to fail or we do give them that-- we've talked about this before going that term of dignity risk.
Dr. Gwen: Yes.
Alex: That we are giving them that risk ability to be able to say, "I'm safe to try this. And then, if I fail, it's still okay. I can learn that skill." The students who come in with that, they have a head start, a giant head start. If someone is cognitively able to learn in a classroom setting but also capable of building relationships one-on-one to be able to receive that mentorship, and it's a student who wants the right level of social interaction. Also, not only is this the first time where students are going to be living on their own potentially but it's also the first time they're going to be around in close quarters with as many individuals socially. They're living next door to another young adult and they're learning to get along with them.
So, students who are so desperate for social interaction and their skill doesn't match that, that can require a lot of intervention and social skills training, but students who have enough experience to know, "Yeah, I want this, and this is a brand-new thing, but I've been taught a little bit about how to interact with others."
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: That's something that can get in the way initially as if a student doesn't know how to be safe or appropriate socially around others.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: Those are often students who I'm recommending the ScenicView Plus program too because I need that mentorship to even on-- for what to send in a text message. Because sometimes our students, if they're wanting to date, which we encourage, we need to encourage safely dating. And, they may not know what that looks like, right? I mean, they may not know what is going to make others uncomfortable.
So, the ideal student is someone who has enough social experience or has enough social awareness to be able to integrate with our great social milieu.
Dr. Gwen: Right. Yeah, yeah. It's almost like a rocket fuel.
Dr. Gwen: Or, was it like ScenicView could be seen as a rocket fuel to a startup. It's like "Okay, well, I've got the awareness, I've got some motivation, I've got some basics under my belt." And then, we're just going to apply rocket fuel and then there you go.
Alex: Yeah. It's just apply skills. And, because we have enough personalization, we can even invent classes or invent skill development that they themselves need that somewhere other students didn't need.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: But, if they have that foundation, then they just launch, like you said.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: Those are our good to great students. Those are our students who come in and they have some independence and then we're fully confident that when they leave, they're going to be safe in the community, they're going to be able to hold down whatever job they need to be able to support themselves financially. They're going to be able to pursue education that they want.
We also can serve students who maybe aren't going to be at that level, but we can build that foundation too, I guess, is what I'm saying. So, it's not that that's a precursor to them being accepted, it's just expectations for the family and for the student are different depending on where they're coming in with in terms of their motivation, and their soft skills, and their awareness. They may not be able to-- but they may be able to go into an apartment and have a part-time job and still be much more independent, much better than they were when they came in.
So, it just depends on what a student needs and where they're at when they come in. I have a soft spot for those that we can just apply the rocket fuel to, and they just go because it's so fun to see.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, it's exciting.
Dr. Gwen: That's really exciting. Let's get into your desired outcomes for your students. And, it sounds like it's quite individualized anyway depending on--
Alex: It is.
Dr. Gwen: --where they come in, but when you think about, wow-- so and so left this program and we're really happy even though this so and so looks different than this so and so at the end of our program. But, what would your desired outcomes be for a graduate of your program?
Alex: A great question. And, I guess maybe I'll just highlight a couple students that I think maybe have different outcomes but both really successful, both what we would term like really, and families are happy with our services, and students are feeling empowered.
One would be a young man who came in. I believe when he came in he was 23 and now he's 25, I think mid-20s. And, when he came in, he had some work experience but wasn't able to juggle everything together. So, he had multiple jobs where he would work for a few months and it seemed like he had the skills but then it would just kind of flameout. He'd leave or he'd let go.
And, at the end of his program, at the end, he's working actually full-time with benefits for doTERRA, who's an essential oil company that's based in Utah around us. And, working there, really enjoying it. He lives in an apartment in the community. So, he's able to support himself. He attended college part-time while he was at ScenicView. I don't know if he's graduated officially yet, but he continued that. So, he was able to make that transition from going to school before, doing school at ScenicView, and then really feeling empowered to continue his education as needed.
He has a driver's license now. I think he had a driver's license coming in, which often our students have a license but very few of them use it, which is kind of an interesting thing about our population. I'm sure you've seen that.
Dr. Gwen: Oh, yeah.
Alex: But, it's the anxiety, it's just the lack of confidence and the financial side of it with the car insurance and maintenance, but he's able to drive now. So, he's, of course, feeling empowered that way. And so, he just really has a setup now where it's like he has some security financially. He's got a place to live and education. He even has a higher limit. So, he can keep this job, or he can say, "I want to go back and do something else too". And so, that's our vocationally speaking and educationally, I just love what he accomplished.
We have another student, a young woman who is working part-time now at the end of her program. And, I don't know if she'll ever be able to work full-time and do school and/or do her social life that she wants. So, the full-time job might be a stretch for her just because of some of the anxiety she experiences, and because of some of the challenges she has. But, she really took on ScenicView as a challenge and really grew a lot socially.
So again, her needs were more social than these other individuals. It was pretty targeted to vocational. This young man who now has a full-time job. Hers were more social. And so, she had a lot of confidence issues and... ...lack of ability or social skills.
And now, it's exciting, she's living with a roommate. And so, she has this home base to come to. We found that that was best for her. Sometimes our students can have a roommate on campus if they want, they don't have to. And we quickly found with her, she was going to benefit from having a roommate experience because she needed that security of a friend there with her to help her. But, I just loved watching her. I was actually her therapist originally in the program before I did admissions. And, watching her grow socially, she now has a part-time job, she's in the shared apartment, and she is attending activities on her own, she's kind of creating her own social agenda, which is such a big step for her. But, for her, that's like everything.
She's happy to have a job and she's happy to live on her own. But, really, really where it's at for her is that she's feeling like, "I can date people if I want, I maybe have a future, and maybe I could even start a family, I could potentially do this." Whereas, when she came into ScenicView, that was just eating her up, to be honest, that social anxiety, and just the lack of confidence. I see my friends and my sisters doing this and I'm never going to have that.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And so, that is another outcome that we really stress and even independent of living situation or job. If we can give someone that social confidence, how huge is that, right? That's the fulfilling part of what we talk about. That's the thrive aspect of our program.
So, again, there's different levels that our students are going to accomplish, but it can be summarized by living independently in an apartment, having some sort of vocational opportunity that they're taking advantage of, whether that'd be part-time or full-time. And then, socially feeling like, I have this confidence to engage socially how I want to. Some students don't need that. They have their online group and that's fine. But, some students are really craving that and we're able to give that to them.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah. It's almost like the outcome is the power of choice.
Alex: Yeah. I love that.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah. Right.
Alex: I love that.
Dr. Gwen: We'll just put it on a t-shirt.
Alex: Yeah, there we go. Okay. So, yeah, I've just created that.
Dr. Gwen: That's it. That's for your business development side.
Alex: I love it, yeah.
Dr. Gwen: You're giving students the power of choice at the end. I think that's something that happens a lot with my clients, right? By the time I start to see them because I only see late teens, older teens to early adults, and many adults as well. But, my kind of niche is this 18 to 26 kind of range. By the time they get to me, they've been told a lot of, "No. You can't. You won't. It's hard." Well, we need to help you here or on the other side, maybe they're like, "I think something's up with me, but no one's ever told me. But, I've always had a lot of support."
So, I'm kind of ashamed of something. I don't know what it is, but this idea of like, "Really if I can sit in life confidently," meaning I can take care of myself, and in anxiety, "I have the resources and the support to meet any challenge that faces me in life," kind of the antidote of anxiety. Then, I really do have this power of choice. And, that is super cool like that gives me goosebumps, but anyway.
Alex: I love it. I love the way you phrased that. And, it's hard for me to honestly talk about our outcomes because they are so varied. Because our population is so varied even with the same "cognitive ability", someone has so many different routes they can take just as any young adult does, right? And, I love that flexibility that our program offers. And, from an admissions perspective, it's simultaneously difficult because some families will want those expectations really clarified. And I'm like, "You know what, this is going to--
So, I love that language. But then, it's also really empowering because I can say, "We can give them whatever they want." And, that's really better. We can help them get whatever they actually want to be able to choose. And, that's actually more powerful. And, I do think our program is comprehensive enough in its curriculum and its scope that if they need budgeting, or hygiene, or high-level math tutoring, whatever it is that they need, we have enough flexibility to make it happen and that dignity of choice is then, they're so much freer to do that. So, I love that, it's been helpful for me really to have that conversation because the outcomes are so important to families, but it is so varied.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah. And, sometimes we don't know what they can do because they have never had the opportunity to do them. So, the ADA just came to their anniversary last week, their third year. And, that idea of nothing about them without them really struck me, really struck me when I was listening to the webinar that they had. And, it just made me think like, so many times we don't include these young adults in what supports are coming around them. What interventions they're receiving? What services? Why you take this medication? What that's for?
So, I think sometimes it's hard to say what an outcome is because we really don't know what they can do without something, whatever that is, and you had highlighted that earlier, which is sometimes, yay, it's great that they've had so much support, but now, we don't know what they can do on their own. So, we need to throw it at the wall and see where it is. And, that's the dignity of risk of going back to that.
And, I think if you have a very, very thoughtful system in place, which you do, then parents don't feel so worried about their kid, adult child failing, and that that failure is an opportunity for learning, that sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. That idea that it's okay that they're going to stumble or be clumsy or fall there because they're going to be picked right back up in the system and you're going to figure it out and move forward.
Alex: And, in fact, it's necessary, right?
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And, I think a great example of that is our-- and I can't tell you how many meetings I've sat in where we've tried to develop this over the past few years, our internet safety policy and our internet because our students are going to leave campus with access to internet, of course. We hope.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: If they don't, that's going to be a real hindrance to their empowerment and their choice. And so, we want students to come in and have access to internet pretty much right away. And yet, there are many students who come in with access and they're staying up all night and they're not attending class in the morning. And so, we've really worked hard to develop a system that is flexible, and we start more structured than less, right? And, we move towards less structure.
We have the ability actually to personalize a person's internet plan. So, we can say, "It sounds like you're really struggling with the choice point of when do I turn off my show at night." And so, when do I stop watching Netflix, which hypocritically I think I watched Netflix until 1:00 in the morning last night. We all struggle with that, right? But, sometimes if that's impacting their ability to get up to work the next day, we need to step in and say, "What would it look like if we, for two weeks, just cut off the internet at midnight?"
Dr. Gwen: Yup.
Alex: So now, it's not a choice anymore for you. But, that's not forever. So, this is all kind of a plan is individualized and based within the student's transition plan and with the service coordinator to say, "Okay, are you on board with that? For three weeks, we're going to do, at midnight no internet." And then, after that, we'll maybe lift that for a week and see how that goes. And, if you're able to get to class and you're able to feel like you get enough sleep, then wonderful, right? Now, it looks like you're developing that skill, or else we'll step in and develop-- We have content filters initially until our students pass an internet safety class.
So, we have a curriculum where they go through to learn, even what sites and online chat forms are safe and how to interact with others socially, appropriately on the internet. Because that's the number one reason why a lot of our adults with autism get into trouble legally is the online interactions.
Dr. Gwen: Oh yes.
Alex: Of course.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And so, it's just the balance of, we want to provide this risk, but we also want them to feel safe, and we want parents to know that they are safe. And so, I think we've done that, and it's been in a really thoughtful way, but that's what it's all about. And, it's really difficult. The easiest way thing to do would just be to say, "Okay, no internet for the first six months." We don't have to deal with any of that. You can use our school computers to do any work you need to do, but you don't have internet in your room. But, that's not helping long-term.
We've created a complex program in the sense that we're allowing our students to experience that, which certainly isn't the easiest route. Our program directors pull their hair out as we're trying to look through the nuances of these policies, but we hold true to that principle of the risk, and of the choice, and of the ability to learn on our campus, what it's actually going to be like off-campus, and in the community.
Dr. Gwen: Yup, yup, yup. And then, it's collaborative. That idea of, hey, let's experiment. Let's not judge. So, instead of saying, "Well, you obviously can't handle this, so bye-bye internet forever." That's not what you're saying. What you're saying is, "Okay, like this is something to navigate because all of us have to navigate balancing our obligations with fun."
Dr. Gwen: I mean, that's life. And so, let's collaborate and let's experiment. Let's stay curious and let's see what happens. But, things like time frames, things like coming back and having a conversation about it, things like having rating scale. Whatever that is, that's at least a thoughtful approach to managing a real-life situation. And, man, I can really relate to the legal aspects of the internet. My clients get into quite a bit of trouble this way, unbeknownst to them.
Alex: Oh, I know. It's so innocent often.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, yeah.
Alex: Most of the time, it's very, very innocent.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And, they just get trapped in this process, yeah.
Dr. Gwen: It's a big one. So, I love that you, guys, are trying to capture and address a complex situation with an equally complex solution.
Alex: Right, right, right. And, another one, we won't right now, but just to the dating policies we have. Of course, we want our students to experience social life and we've had students who have actually gotten married, met at ScenicView, and got married, and it's wonderful. And, we also have students who their whole experience has been really impacted by a negative relationship that they've engaged in. And so, that's another one where we had to look really closely. Okay, how do we manage this?
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And, I hope we've arrived at a place that is safe, but also really experiential and allows them... ...the dignity of a relationship.
Dr. Gwen: Yes.
Alex: It would. And, any mid-20s and in young 20s, individual is going to want to be experiencing different relationship levels.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, yeah. And, that experience is the best teacher.
Alex: Absolutely. But, we need to keep it safe.
Dr. Gwen: Exactly.
Alex: It is one of the hardest things we do on campus and it certainly would be easier to just say, "Yes, don't do it." Or, I think we started in 2001, I think we were an all-male school, which doesn't take away all the issues but certainly limits it. But now, we're thrilled that 30% of our students, I think that's a pretty good number considering the population where 30% of our students are identified as female.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And, which is wonderful. We add that gender diversity in there, which is so great. But, it creates different challenges and we just deal with those on an individual basis. It's a wonderful social environment. It's like college is what we try to make.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah. And, like any collegiate setting, there is questioning and experimentation, and there's a lot of that. So, I mean it's great that you, guys, nod to that and try to have general rails, if you will. We'll just put--
Alex: Yeah, another term we use is--
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, go ahead.
Alex: --invisible structure. It's not in your face, it's not obvious, we're on a lockdown treatment center, we're not--but we need guide rails, and we need people. And, our students want that typically when they're able to understand. Yeah.
Dr. Gwen: Yup. And, that parents need that as well. They need that as well.
Hey, Alex, if someone graduates from your program or they're going into the community apartment setting, and they still need a little bit of help, it might be just like a check-in every month or something like that, is ScenicView able to do that as well?
Alex: Yes, yes. We have a really great alumni program at ScenicView. Historically, most of our students who graduate end up living in the Provo area at least for years because that's where they feel comfortable. And so, that creates a great social environment. And so, students can actually choose the level of support they need and it's a paid-for service, but it can be like the most basic. It's, I think, $50 a month and then they're just are able to come to do certain activities on campus. Where they just can continue that social engagement and feel like they have that connection. But then, we have one-on-one services. It could be job coaching. They can continue therapy if needed, so it's not so abrupt of termination there if that's not going to work. And, there are just different tiered levels of support that they can get in our alumni program.
So, we really are trying to spend a lot of time. We have an alumni coordinator who's dedicated, full-time employee, dedicated to reaching out to those people, and making sure they feel like they have support because again our students are graduating with different levels of independence and sometimes, they still need. All of our students are interdependent while they're independent. That word is important too. And, ScenicView is part of that for many years typically after they graduate.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah. It's fantastic because I think that's the reality that there's a continuum of support that needs to be provided because that's the reality of the situation and that's so awesome. That is so incredible. I love hearing all of this. We could probably go deep into all these little crevices. And, that can be another time maybe.
Dr. Gwen: So, Alex, how do people pay for your program? I'm not really sure about the structure in Utah. I mean, I'm in California. We have a regional center here. How do you guys work?
Alex: ScenicView is so unique in this area too. We were started by wealthy entrepreneurs who started Novell. I don't know if you're familiar with the tech, probably not tech industry in Utah, but Novell was a company, big time tech company, employed hundreds. And, one of the founders is our founder Ray Noorda. They had a son with neurodiversity and learning differences and just said, "There's nowhere for this young adult, let's start ScenicView." Started us with a large endowment with the mission that we would make it affordable for everyone. And, that's been remarkable in my position to work with.
And so, our program is private pay only. We don't have any regional funding. We don't do any insurance. Sometimes we can bill insurances for like an individual service like therapy or neurofeedback that we have, and we offer. But, that's a per service thing. So, really the simplest way to say is we're private funding only. But, almost all our students who have come through ScenicView were given scholarship.
So, we have the Noorda's scholarship fund and students and families access that by applying for financial aid. And then, we base it on financial need. And, we do have a minimum payment, so there have been folks who, for whatever reason, whether they're not willing to-- maybe the need isn't as great, or they haven't been able to come. And, that's always like the saddest thing for me. I'm like, "Oh man, this is a fit and we can't make it work." But, that's very rare, almost without fail, 95% of the time, we're able to scholarship down to what a family can afford reasonably through that fund.
And, again, we're looking for a similar level of sacrifice for every family. So, some families may say, "Well, I want 90 scholarship." And, we'll say, "Well, you can afford more." And, we need to have that actual process and we're approving scholarships. And so, we're not just handing out cash to everyone. We're not making it free of course.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: But, it is an amazing and unique. I'm not aware of any program that is able to operate, just because of the generosity of our founders and their wisdom and foresight and saying, "There's going to be families who can afford this and yet they still need it." And so, we want to be able to do that.
So, we're scholarshiping people. And, that's just a good-faith negotiation between myself and the families at that point. And so, a lot of times families say, "What is it going to cost?" And, I say, "Honestly, I can't tell you until you complete this financial aid application." We'll tell you-- We're going to make it work if it's a fit.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And so, that's remarkable, right? And, the lone exception to that, and frankly, that still probably could be considered a scholarship, but our full fee is at $80,000 a year or about $219 a day. And, we charge that amount for our ScenicView Plus program in our students. So, we don't scholarship them below that, which again is even still rather inexpensive.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And, the balance there, and with my business development side, what we're trying to look at is how long can we sustain this? We think we can sustain it as long as we're able to keep growing and expanding. And, we really want to hold on to that idea of making it affordable for everyone. You spoke to that earlier in the inclusivity in their families that need these services, frankly, more than anyone, but it's out of their price range.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: So, that's one of my favorite things to do is to sit down with the family. There's a family who's from back East and... ...I still touch base with them every month. We admitted their son about a year ago. And, just an incredibly emotional and almost spiritual connection with this family where they were really just looking for something and they knew they needed some program for the summer. There's no way they're going to be able to afford it, no way.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And, just sitting in their office and going, we had to pull some strings. And, with our financial director, I always have to be an advocate for the family. I'm like, "No, we really got to get them in." And, just sitting in the office with them, they'd actually been able to travel out. They'd driven out because they couldn't afford to fly. So, they'd driven across the country. And, sitting in the office being like, "We're going to be able to make this work at this amount," and just that experience of being able to accept them. And, he's doing great in the program is the best part of my job.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: And, it's just great. Shout out to the Noordas and their generosity for that family being able to do that. We have a member of the Noorda family on our board and we keep that mission alive 20 years later. So, that's a long answer to your question but I have to include all that because it's just a remarkable vision and so unique, right? So, that's such a process for a tuition.
Dr. Gwen: And, you're a non-profit organization.
Alex: Yeah. Which is another unique thing when you look at transition programs, especially residential programs.
Dr. Gwen: And so, I think it's lovely. And, you're right, we were talking before the interview about access and equity of access and how important that is for our clients and our students because they need more, because it's equitable. It's not anything else but that. That is amazing. That's amazing.
Alex: Yeah, it is. It's a joy. And, I feel spoiled because I talked to my fellow admissions officers and it's such a different game. And, it's no thanks to anything. I've done or even our whole team has done, but it's just a remarkable organization to be a part of for that reason. And, it creates this heart where our staff don't know who's paying a few hundred dollars a month and who's paying several thousand dollars a month. They don't know. They're providing services the same and the students are getting the same opportunities when they leave ideally. And so, it's phenomenal. I love it.
Dr. Gwen: That's incredible. That's amazing.
Okay, Alex. So, I always end my interviews with this question, which is, if you could only choose one skill to empower an individual with, what would it be and why?
Alex: That's such a hard question, Gwen.
Dr. Gwen: I know.
Alex: It's a good one though. I want to cheat and identify a soft skill and a hard skill, but I won't, I'll answer.
Dr. Gwen: That's okay. It's okay.
Alex: I think the more important of the two, and I alluded to this earlier, is the soft skill of openness and flexibility. And, with our clients, that takes a lot of work. So, I'm not saying that we need this as a prerequisite to come into our program, but this is just what makes... ...the magic like you said. This is what makes the most amazing cases happen is when a student comes in, and for whatever reason they have the skill of knowing, I have this area that I need to work on, and I have the openness to listen to someone say, "Hey, remember that thing we talked about with your hygiene? You're doing it again, I can tell you haven't showered." Of course, that could be a mortifying experience or that could be terrible. Our staff are skilled at doing that, but our students to have the skill of saying "Oh, okay, like I know I want a job and I can tell that that's going to make it hard for me to get a job if I smell bad," they're able to connect those dots and then they latch on to the skill-building. So then, they learn, "Okay, well it's because I don't like taking a shower because of the sensory of the water on my face.
So, okay, let's take our skill specialist in that area or they can take a really concrete skill and say, "Okay, well, let's teach you how to wash your hair in the bathtub." And then, it's able to unlock everything that I feel like our program does best, just teach all those different skills to someone. So, I would love to be able to instill that in all our students. And, that's way easier said than done and certainly not. We don't expect all our students to be perfect to that when they come in, but that's how it is, I guess. It's just openness, flexibility.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah.
Alex: You understand their own limitations.
Dr. Gwen: Yeah, nice. Nice. Yes, I love it. I love it. I love that question.
Alex: That's a good one.
Dr. Gwen: I love that question. It's so good. It's like, what sort are you going to fall on, Alex? It's a good one. Let me just tell you. You could only choose one. What would it be? I love that. And, you're right, because it's complex. It's a very complex one because you bring in cognitive style as well into flexibility. And, even your emotional grittiness and resilience to hearing something that could be-- So, relationship then is critical to establish, so that it can bolster that kind of feedback. So, I imagine that your staff is already doing that beautifully, anyway.
So, Alex, if someone is so interested in ScenicView, how would they get a hold of you? And, I'll put the description below, but I mean in the description below. But, let me know. Let us know how they can get a hold of you.
Alex: Yes. So, my cell phone number is 801-859-5772, Gwen. And, anybody that reaches out can get me through text or calling and voicemail. And, our website's pretty good, svacademy.org. It has a lot of information on there, there's some great ways-- We've tried to tailor it to the young adult as well as the parent because we have lots of visitors. But, yeah, just svacademy.org. Find out about us, and then email or call me, and we'll walk through the process together. It's really an individualized admissions process because it has to be with our unique tuition. We get to know each other really well through that process and it's what I love most, is connecting with those families that need services and getting them the services they need. It's a wonderful thing.
Dr. Gwen: I love it. Everyone heard it here Alex's cell phone number. There you have it.
Alex: Yup, anytime.
Dr. Gwen: Thanks, Alex. Thank you so much for doing this interview with me today.
Alex: Thank you. It's been wonderful.
Dr. Gwen: Thanks.
Hey, thanks for watching. If you're interested in finding out more about ScenicView Academy, contact Alex. His information and the link to my website, where I share additional impressions about this interview is in the description below.
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