The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Get ready colleges…we’re moving in!

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Courtesy Jeff Genter, Associated Press

Actually, I moved out two years ago upon obtaining my bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications at the University of Minnesota, but my condition was muted enough where additional services weren’t required. I simply notified my roommates of my quirks and simply to be aware of any unusual behaviors.

Other autistic students don’t share my awareness though, nor do they necessarily possess my weaknesses. To combat the social awkwardness that may interfere with the college experience for autistic students, colleges are now offering autism intervention programs, with Colorado State University’s Opportunities for Postsecondary Success and a program at the University of Connecticut featured on National Public Radio’s flagship news program All Things Considered.

When NPR isn’t sticking its foot up its mouth in the political fray (and I’m referring to their recent flaps that led to resignations in their front office), the report they broadcast from local affiliate KUNC spells out what will be a growing trend as the autism population ages. Without accounting for the variables of intervention methods and symptom severities, the percentage of autistic people who apply for college will naturally increase as more children with the diagnosis grow older, resulting in a higher frequency of spectrum members applying for higher educational institutions. Since virtually all institutions are eager to boast admirable graduation rates, they won’t be hesitant to offer assistance to the student body.

In the case of Colorado State, autistic students who are part of their program may be given a peer mentor to practice social interactions that are often difficult to grasp. Marshall University has its own Autism Training Center, which includes tutoring services for students. Another source who started the autism program at UConn suggested the best chance for autistic people to adapt to college and find jobs later on is turning differences into strengths.

Tying things with my last post, corporations could take notice of these programs. Autistic students in Fort Collins, Colo., Huntington, W. Va. and Storrs, Conn. can display their improvements in social skills and present their differences that serve as strengths. Peer mentors and tutors may not be on call once students transition from college life to the professional world, but companies eager to tap into the population’s quickly growing pool could piggyback off the programs at Colorado State, Marshall and UConn, and any other school not covered by the NPR report (the woman who started the UConn program co-runs the College Autism Spectrum website to counsel other parents and universities).

While I discussed the ironies about my job status in my last post, seeing programs specifically designed for autistic students doesn’t surprise me. While my collegiate alma mater, the University of Minnesota, doesn’t have a specific program yet, I have been a featured guest in the last three academic years for the Disabled Student Cultural Center’s Lunch and Learn program. However, being a speaker for the U of M’s DSCC leaves me wondering why other facets of the disabled community aren’t reported as heavily, even though most conditions have preceded autism in regards to official documentation.

When I was a senior, there was much discussion over the lack of accessibility for wheelchair-bound individuals in a campus that began operations in 1851, long before any thought was given to multiple groups. High-traffic buildings can handle those unable to walk, but other buildings on campus require a tricky path to traverse. While autism coverage is certainly warranted as the disability continues its saturation of American culture, I do wonder if other groups will be ignored as we frantically attempt to solve potential issues the autism community is dealing with.

In the short-term, I’d expect more versions of this story in local media when programs are initiated or stories of this nature are selected by news producers. Producing a local and original angle will inform communities served by those markets and fill up space with a quality story, but perhaps the autism craze will cast aside other groups who could benefit from programs to help them adapt to the world of college and beyond.

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