When first approached to take on this project by Dr. Jaime Taylor (then Interim Provost) and Andrew Shepard-Smith (Executive Director of Research and Sponsored Programs), I was excited to have been chosen to be a part of the process. I had little understanding at the time of how much FSL would affect the lives of individuals in the Clarksville area and even less understanding of how it would affect my own life.
I have felt for years that there is a great need for programs to assist students with disabilities in their transition after high school. It disturbs me how little there is out there for students with disabilities once they leave the public school system. Starting an autism program at APSU for students meeting the requirements for admissions is a very small step, but one in the right direction nonetheless. It has already led to conversations in the community about developing other transition programs to meet a broader range of needs. It is my hope to someday be able to work collaboratively with others to make a productive life after high school a reality for all adults with disabilities. Luckily, there is no shortage of people in the Clarksville area who strive to do the same, and I foresee great things in our future.
As I researched programs across the US dealing specifically with autism and higher education, I became excited about what we already have to offer at APSU even without a program. We have a small campus, which embraces partnerships and strives for student success. We have counseling services, career services, health services, an academic support center, and an office of disability services. It was reassuring to know that these supports were already in place as a foundation for our new program.
I was especially excited about working with disability services. The Office of Disability Services at APSU offers a broad range of support for individuals with disabilities, but I was saddened by how many of those who would benefit from their services do not register with the office. As a former special educator in the public K-12 system, I have seen first hand the heartache and embarrassment that often comes with having the label of disability. It made me realize that one of the most important things that I can do for this program is to ensure that the participants are treated with dignity and feel that they are a part of molding a program that will help others who face the same struggles in the future.
Now that we’ve been in school for a few weeks and I have met with the FSL participants in class on several occasions, I can say that they have already won my heart. They are providing me with insight that I would not be able to get elsewhere, and frankly, they’re simply an amazing group of individuals. I am truly blessed to have been chosen for this project, and my love for these students and the program grows everyday. I’m eager to continue this journey that we’re taking together, and I know that with their help, we can build a truly amazing program.