The Hallahan family (from left), Tim, Sean and Diane, at home in Pittsburgh.
Tim Hallahan (BUS 1992) and Diane (Klenk) Hallahan (A&S 1995) never dreamed their son, Sean, would ever go to college, let alone their alma mater, even though he reads four books in a sitting, writes detailed military history stories and has a photographic memory.
Diagnosed with high-functioning autism, Sean didn’t ride a school bus until fourth grade and wore ear protectors to school assemblies to block out the noise. Taking public transportation or getting a job wasn’t on Sean’s radar.
That all changed when he was 15. He began travel training and was shown how to take public transportation (until comfortable riding on his own) to work at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s bookstore in East Liberty, the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Oakland, and Eat ’n Park in Dormont.
This paved the way for Sean’s participation in a new program at Point Park, enabling college-age students with autism and other disabilities to experience college life and audit classes through CITY (Creating Individualized Transition for Youth) Connections, and is part of the Program for Students with Exceptionalities in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Point Park is one of three four-year universities in Pennsylvania offering a post-secondary transition program.
Sean Hallahan, 18, is one of 12 students in the first-year program for students 18-21 with a high school education.
Diane Hallahan is amazed at what the program has done for her talented son who is “smart in a different way” than the couple’s 14-year-old daughter, Nicole.
Sean and his mother ride the T together in the morning. She gets off a stop earlier for her job at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney at One Oxford Center, where she’s a legal assistant. He meets four other students who walk to Point Park together. He rides the T alone to the family’s home in the Beechview section of Pittsburgh after his 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. day.
“For Sean to get up and go to school means he’s in a comfortable environment. I wondered if he would ever function on his own, and he does just fine. Sean is very independent in the community and Downtown,” she says.
The Hallahans feel comfortable with Sean at Point Park because he’s used to the urban campus, where the couple met in an organizational development class in 1992. They married a year later. Tim Hallahan, an auditor for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is anxious for Sean to pair up with a buddy next semester to take him out of his comfort zone and interact with other students. The next step will be finding a job.
Sean Hallahan says the day begins with a team meeting. Students read job postings and current events, and discuss budgets. Some students do community service, while others go to work. Every student has a checking account with a monthly stipend of $40 from the Pittsburgh Public Schools for food, community-based and school activities, or clothes for work. “These kids just think different, learn different and process different,” says Diane Hallahan.
The Hallahans found out about the program from Gayle Bair, instruction coordinator of CITY Connections. They learned that J. Kaye Cupples, Ph.D., associate professor and program director of the Special Education program at Point Park, was liaison. They think highly of Cupples and knew him when he worked at Pittsburgh Public Schools, where Sean took honors classes.
“The students wear their Point Park backpacks and University I.D.s and are very proud of their accomplishments so far at the University. Programs like this will open doors for young adults with disabilities. The program has a history of very high graduation rates and positive experiences related to the acquisition and retention of employment in the community. It is gratifying to see these young adults included in both family and community activities just like their typical peers,” says Cupples.
Bair, who is in “awe” of the program, says Point Park has been unbelievably welcoming. “With Dr. Cupples’ tutelage, this came off without a hitch. When the parents heard he was facilitating, they asked where to sign. The goal is to move students to become as independent as they are able to. This endeavor to work with Dr. Cupples and Point Park is a dream come true.”
Text by Melissa Williams Schofield
Photo by Martha Rial
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University.