Monday, August 8, 2011

How leadership and community service requirements bedevil students with autism

From a letter posted by a parent on a listserv discussion about autistic students and leadership and community service requirements:

I do hope that others will recognize what a big stumbling block this is for our older children with Asperger's. My son also did not make the National Honor Soceity the first year, even though he was tied for the highest gpa all through jr high and up to that point in high school. The last year he did make it, but only after I helped him with the application and we went through anything we could think of that could be called leadership or communityservice. At the time, he wasn't yet dx with Asperger's.

If your child goes on to college, you may find the same problem arises in the form of scholarship and award applications. It has for us, at least. Our son's grades are still very good. However, he does not belong to campus clubs, does not hold a leadership position, etc. In fact, he recently applied for a National scholarship specifically for students with Autism. I was hoping he'd get some assistance through that one. But, no, he was told he was *required* to show Community Involvement / Social Activities. They also required letters of recommendation from close friends in his field or professors who knew him well - in order to submit a completed application. Well, the only people who know his character well are family or perhaps doctors. It is very frustrating and will affect many of our kids as they progress through school and college.
Community service requirements are on the rise everywhere, affecting everything from high school graduation  criteria to college scholarship decisions--even, apparently scholarships specifically for students with autism.

How many people have considered what these means for the autistic students we are supposedly trying to include? How broad an interpretation of "community service" are the Powers that Be wiling to consider? For example, would posting helpful  tips on programming on online discussion boards count as community service?

6 comments:

Hainish said...

"How broad"? My local h.s. allows students to fulfill the requirement by collecting boxes of tissues and other personal care items for the homeless/soldiers overseas.

Anonymous said...

Community service requirements shouldn't be much of a problem for kids w/ Asperger's or high-functioning kids on the spectrum. It can be as simple as gathering items for soldiers or hosting an online forum to answer questions about their specialty. I can see how leadership requirements might be a tad harder to show.

Anonymous said...

These requirements are also hard for low-income kids. The service they render is often to family members, and therefore doesn't count. Or it's informal help to neighbors, and so no "official" adult will be able to sign off on it. These service requirements are turning into ticket-punching opportunities, anyway.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Here's an idea-- IN Highschool several of us started a "high technology club" for students "interested in technological careers." We made ourselves officers, got SGA funding, and basically got together once a week to eat pizza and play video games. Checked off a leadership box that way.....

Alternatively, for a high-functioning kidw who's shy around people, there's always the local animal shelter!

Also, if your child is functional online, perhaps joining discussion forums and working his way up to "moderator?"

Laura said...

It isn't the community service that I'm worried about for my daughter (she has Asperger's), but these dang letters of recommendation. *sigh* We're not at that stage yet, but I'm already growing concerned...

lgm said...

Katherine, I'd suggest you contact the Boy Scouts of America for ideas on what their members with Asperger's and Autism have accomplished in terms of community service and leadership. You can google also.

>>How broad an interpretation of "community service" are the Powers that Be wiling to consider? For example, would posting helpful tips on programming on online discussion boards count as community service?

If someone from that board were to document it. There are many other possibilities though that certainly don't exclude a person with disabilities.

How about a leadership position of webmaster of an organization?

One of the coolest outcomes of our High School cancelling almost every club was that students had to actually get out and lead in the community. There have been some nifty fundraisers, as well as service projects, done as a result. Much nicer to see "I persuaded Z people to come out and paint the fence at the playground in an underpriviliged neighborhood" than "I was secretary of the X Club"..i.e. all I did was take notes and read them back at the next meeting.