Monday, August 24, 2015

In the Beginning...

At the very beginning of this process, we decided that we wanted APSU and the community to be involved in the development and implementation to the maximum extent possible.  The first step was to create a focus group to discuss the needs of those with ASD on the APSU campus.  I was shocked by the response that I received from people wanting to take part in this focus group.  Over 30 individuals attended three different sessions to narrow down our focus.  These participants included parents of children with ASD, APSU students with and without an ASD diagnosis, faculty and staff from across campus, local therapist, local physicians, and others. The feedback that these individuals were able to provide was priceless.  I would highly recommend that anyone interested in creating a program take this step.  

Once the focus group was complete, we realized that our main focus needed to be on social and academic support for our students, as well as faculty training and support.  This is when the real work began. During the spring 2015 semester, Professor John McConnell and I took applications from students who were interested in volunteering to become mentors and tutors for the program.  These students completed applications, went through an interview process, and once chosen, attended a two-day training to become familiar with ASD and the tasks they will be completing as mentors.  Seeing how excited these students were (and still are) to participate in this program has been amazing.  They have already put many hours into the program, and they even named it Full Spectrum Learning.  

Also during the spring 2015 semester, I worked closely with many individuals, including the staff of MoSAIC at UT Chattanooga, to discuss logistics and go through the proper channels to start this program.  Over the summer, I have worked closely with Martin Golson in the Academic Services Center to arrange the one-on-one tutoring that our participants will receive and Lynette Taylor in the Office of Disability Services to help us get the word out to current students.  I’ve had many individuals on and off campus donate their time to this cause, and it is truly appreciated.  At this time, all of the work that has gone into development has been voluntary, so I say with honesty that the passion and dedication of our campus and community have made this possible. 

At this time, FSL is a pilot program.  This basically means that we are doing a trial run. This semester, we will create a business plan, work with Vocational Rehabilitation, financial aid, Tennessee Board of Regents, and a multitude of others to make this program official and long lasting.  The process can seem overwhelming, but it is completely worth it. I feel like I should say that this will be a slow process, but the fact that we were able to get this up and running in less than a year is nothing short of a miracle.  I’m grateful to have been asked to oversee this program, and I am truly blessed to be able to do so at APSU where the university and community are so supportive. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Full Spectrum Learning: Our Journey Begins

Each year in the United States, an estimated 50,000 individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) turn 18, and that number is on the rise.  Approximately 1/3 of these individuals attend college, and of those, only around 20% graduate despite their ability to succeed academically.  Resources typically focus on early childhood due to the potential to improve outcomes early in life, yet adulthood makes up the vast majority of one's lifespan.  Doesn't it make sense to provide resources to improve adult outcomes as well?

At Austin Peay State University (APSU), we see the opportunity to provide support for our students with autism and see the potential they have for independence and a successful life.  Beginning the fall 2015 semester, the Martha Dickerson Eriksson College of Education is offering a program that has been named Full Spectrum Learning (FSL).  Our primary purpose is to increase the success of students with ASD in the area of academics, engagement, and retention at APSU.  This will occur by offering individualized tutoring, peer and faculty mentoring, and a course focusing on independence, academic, and social skills.  The curriculum for this course was developed by Michelle Rigler, Amy Rutherford, and Emily Quinn.  These wonderful ladies run the MoSAIC program at UT Chattanooga and have published this curriculum based on 8 years of experience working with students with ASD in higher education.  It is our desire that this program will be able to assist as many students as possible in their transition to college life, obtaining a college degree, and beginning a successful career.

It goes without saying that I would like this blog to make others aware that we have this program and are looking for participants, but I also have a deeper aspiration.  I want this blog to spread the word that we need programs like this one across the country, and by sharing our experiences, both good and bad, I hope to make the lives of those developing these programs a little easier.