Valuing Autism on and off Campus

Reprinted with permission. Article originally published October 1, 2022 by Center for Disabilities Studies Annual Report 2020-2021.

Samantha Fowle and her fellow academic advisors in UD’s College of Engineering improved their ability last year to guide students on the autism spectrum. Alison Wessel and her staff at UD’s Morris Library worked on making the library’s spaces more “sensory-friendly.” Jennifer Follett’s tutors at UD’s Writing Center learned how to better support autistic students whose methods of communicating sometimes differ from those of other students.

They did so after accepting an invitation from CDS’s Spectrum Scholars, led by Wes Garton, to participate in trainings designed to increase their ability to empower autistic students.

A college-to-career program funded by JPMorgan Chase for select UD students with autism, Spectrum Scholars coaches its cohorts on how to develop study skills, campus connections and self-determination. Equally important, Garton says, is how “the program also aims to nurture a greater appreciation of neurodiversity” among UD faculty, staff and the surrounding community.

The writing tutors would “learn not to judge if a student doesn’t interact as expected,” said Follett. At the library we “learned how to be more inclusive,” said Wessel. Neurodiverse students may have needs that are less typical, suggested Fowle, but at the end of the day, “they’re just students getting an education.”

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