Friday, April 15, 2011

Encouraging College Programs

The rate of children with autism spectrum disorders has skyrocketed in the last twenty years. We all know someone with a young child with developmental challenges...but more and more of these children are now growing up and entering college, where they may be able to handle the academic rigors -- particularly if they're studying a field of intense interest to them (though they may need to develop skills for organizing and sequencing assignments) -- but where they need help navigating the life-skills and social sides of college life.

In response to the growing numbers of students with high functioning autism and Asperger's Syndrome, more and more colleges are beginning to implement programs to help these students cope.

They offer faculty and staff to help students learn to manage their own studies and hand in assignments on time. They offer peer mentors to help the students learn the finer points of social interactions, and they strive to find work-study opportunities so that students on the autism spectrum can learn "soft skills" necessary to be desirable job candidates in the future.

Autism Spectrum Disorders are disabilities, though they are often invisible, and they manifest in ways the rest of the world does not readily recognize as the neurological disabilities they are. Daily life is markedly harder for people with ASDs. Their sensory systems are out of whack, and they often find normal sensory input to be assaultive. They have auditory and visual processing challenges that make it difficult to filter, process and make sense of what they see and hear around them. They have dyspraxia and verbal apraxia, and cannot motor plan or execute a sequence of motor tasks most of us do reflexively, or, for many of them, summon the spontaneous language they wish as quickly as the rest of us. And the list goes on...

Colleges are required by law to make provisions for students with disabilities. I am encouraged to learn that they are doing so for those courageous young people among us who struggle through each day with the complex and multiple challenges of their autism spectrum disorders.

-Jack Simony

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