Last in a 2-part series
“You may be sitting next to a student with autism in your class and not even know it,” said Lorain County Community College’s Disability Services Coordinator Mary Murphy.
There are so many advancements to help students with autism succeed. According to Murphy, one of the best things is diagnosing autism at a young age, often by age 3 or 4. With earlier diagnoses, those with autism are able to get interventions throughout their K-12 schooling and figure out the best way to proceed in life.
“We are seeing more students with autism on our campus because of the success of early intervention, accommodations, and programs, specifically for the autistic in the K-12 world,” Murphy explained.
Many students are able to get the help they need at specialized schools, or even from intervention specialists at their own school district.
Some symptoms of autism in children include a learning disability or speech delay, intense interest in a limited number of things, difficulty paying attention, and the inability to comprehend or relate to others’ emotions or expressions.
“Autism is a spectrum so no two students are alike,” Murphy said. “You can’t say ‘Oh it’s like a hearing impaired student they need A, B, and C.”
Oftentimes the biggest struggle is being able to read social cues as well as their peers and understanding the social norms, according to Murphy.
“We do have a special SDEV [Student Development] course that we recommend all of our incoming students who are on the autism spectrum take because it gives them some really good advice on how to organize and structure, and even talk to your teachers,” Murphy explained.
This course helps these students make the transition from the structured life of K-12 education to the sometimes unpredictable life of college.
Students on the spectrum entering college for the first time often feel a bit overwhelmed. No matter where they are on the spectrum, they function the best when they have structure and routine. Particularly at a younger age, if a routine is broken, those on the spectrum are more likely to go into a meltdown. Many times these can be violent and the person needs to be restrained. With age however, those with autism learn coping strategies to help reduce these outbursts and help them perform in a normal setting independently.
“These students are used to structure,” said Doug Blecher, the founder of Autism Personal Coach, an organization that helps students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that are over 14 years of age learn the skills that help them achieve independent and fulfilling lives.
“They have had it at home and at school, and now they may feel overwhelmed because all of the sudden, they are told, ‘Okay, it’s up to you, decide what you want to do with your life.’”
Since ASD is so broad, many with the disorder are able to lead great lives and go on to be great successes independently, including those that are lower-functioning on the spectrum that may be non-verbal. There are many technological advances to help them be able to communicate, whether it be through a communication board with pictures and words, or typing on a keyboard and having a computer read it aloud, they can function with the right upbringing and encouragement from family and friends.
Symptoms of Autism
Inappropriate social interaction
Poor eye contact
Persistent repetition of words or actions
Intense interest in a limited number of things
Problems paying attention