Learning how to identify and support the growing number of college students with autism spectrum disorders was the focus of a workshop this semester sponsored by the YSU Academic Advising Association.
“Today, you have students coming into colleges with certain strengths and challenges, and I think a lot of the background that was presented at this workshop will help all of us to better deal with these students on a one-to-one basis,” said Sue Miller, association president and senior academic advisor in the Bitonte College of Health and Human Services.
“Someone may have this diagnosis, but every person presents differently, and so just this heightened awareness will help us to be better advisors.”
About 50 YSU faculty and staff – more than half of them academic advisors – attended the workshop titled “Supporting College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder” in the Ohio Room of Kilcawley Center.
Several recent reports have indicated that colleges are likely to see more and more students with autism. A study last year in the journal Pediatrics found about one-third of young people with autism spectrum disorders attended college in the first six years after high school. More broadly, federal data show more than 700,000 U.S. undergraduates with some kind of disability.
The YSU workshop featured Nicole Jarock, director of AHEADD (Achieving in Higher Education), a national organization that supports college students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.
“My goal is to educate the community on understanding autism, and identifying how to support individuals with autism so they can be successful in college,” she said. “I think the main hurdle is the social integration, but also organization and time management.”
Bill Buckler, YSU coordinator of Academic Advising, said many advisors see symptoms of autism in students but may feel unprepared to help. Buckler said he first encountered an autistic student in 2003. The student and his parents were open about his diagnosis, enabling Buckler to assist and make the most of the student’s time at YSU.
But advisors say students rarely share their diagnosis. Instead, it is up to advisors to identify students with autism spectrum disorders. Once identified, the three key areas that advisors and faculty can assist in are: improving social interactions; managing organizational skills and time management; and creating a meaningful career path.
YACADA hopes to hold annual workshops to discuss issues such as ADHD and student mental health issues.
Story by Harry Evans