Students With Autism Increasing In Colleges, Here's What Schools Are Doing To Support Their Needs

A growing number of students with autism are attending colleges and school support matters to these kids now more than ever. Two universities have come up with programs to help these students with special needs cope with college life and eventually thrive in the real world better. So far, the results have been positive.

Nathan Terrell, 19, benefits from a mentoring program set up by his school, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). He is part of the Spectrum Support Program (SSP) in RIT where he regularly meets with his mentor, Atiya Smith, a licensed therapist, according to Deseret News.

Smith assists Terrell in many matters that concern college survival. She mentors him about homework or school activities or they discuss dorm issues and sometimes, even college girls.

Over 70 students with autism are under the SSP, which has an end goal of teaching self-reliance, academic competence and career-readiness for kids in the autism spectrum disorder. The program, however, is not free especially since each student receives specialized service from trained practitioners. It does, however, serve and comply with the requirements of students with special needs as stipulated in the Americans With Disabilities act.

Utah Valley University (UVY) also has a similar paid program called Passages for its students with autism. It's a 9-week course that is also open to outsiders but living within the school community.

Some 80 students are currently part of Passages, which also provides specific and individualized mentorship. "Whatever is going on in the current students' lives, they can share that information and we'll build it into what we're teaching," the program director Lauren Bowen told Deseret News.

Terrell said having a program like SSP will help students with autism feel more accepted in the community. Experts acknowledge that eventually these types of programs will become the norm for universities but there are still many challenges ahead.

Autism is different from other special needs in that it's also a misunderstood condition. These schools, however, are taking small but significant steps to changing the system for the better.

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