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Office of Disability Support Services Pilots New Titans Autism Spectrum Program

Apr 18, 2022

As more students identify as falling on the autism spectrum, IU South Bend’s Office of Disability Support Services (DSS) recognized additional support may be needed to help these students successfully transition from high school to college. Last fall, to begin to address this need, DSS developed a pilot program to support students living with autism.

After attending an informational meeting, a group of 12 neurodivergent students and their parents participated in the pilot Autism Spectrum (AS) Program. The Titans AS program is student focused and addresses the needs these students may encounter in order to be academically successful, said Kevin Griffith, associate vice chancellor of student affairs. It also focuses on issues with the social transition that commonly impacts these students as they pursue higher education.

Students participating in the AS Pilot Program meet regularly with a DSS staff member for mentoring and coaching. They also participate in group social activities. The pilot group helped DSS identify common barriers for neurodivergent students.

We learned that we need to get to know these students and their families before they arrive on campus, said Griffith. This spring, DSS hosted an open house for high school counselors to begin the conversation about ways the DSS staff can be ingrained in high schools to meet and talk with students on the autism spectrum who want to pursue higher education.

In addition, DSS hosts group meetings for students in the pilot program to help them get comfortable and connected with the campus. Research shows that students who are engaged in clubs, student organizations, and other campus student activities are more likely to be successful in college, said Griffith. The AS program helps students develop social networks and find ways to become involved in meaningful activities on campus.

Another goal of the program is to help students learn how to advocate for themselves. We want students to become their own self-advocates and learn how to ask for what help they need, said Griffith. Tutoring, financial aid, registration, housingwhatever the need, we want to help them learn to be the primary decision makers and drive the process.

Students who participated in the pilot program have shown promising progress. The group reported higher grade point averages than typical IU South Bend freshmen, Griffith explained. They were able to find their niche and community and become more confident in the college environment.

Next fall the AS Program will offer a variety of individual programs tailored to the needs of the student. Plans are already underway to bring new neurodivergent students to campus prior to the beginning of the fall semester for a simulation to campus and to discover resources available to them.

Students identifying on the autism spectrum have been historically underrepresented in higher education, said Griffith. However, the numbers are growing. The AS Program is designed to help students living with autism take full advantage of the larger university environment and find their own success.

To learn more about the Titans AS Program, contact the IU South Bend Disability Support Services office atsbdss@iusb.eduor call 574-520-4460.

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