Saturday, February 6, 2016

What makes for an autism-friendly college?

An autism-friendly college may not be the college with the “autism support program”; it’s the college in which autistic students are actually supported. An autism-friendly college is one that pays its note-takers rather than relying on volunteers, such that those deemed eligible for note-taking accommodations consistently receive them. An autism-friendly college is one in which those professors who require students to work in groups and participate in class discussions are willing to relax those requirements for those who have trouble cooperating with peers, trouble parsing and processing oral language, and trouble following group conversations.

Perhaps most importantly, an autism-friendly college is one that indicates which sections of particular courses are autism-friendly. In which sections can one avoid the group assignments and in-person interviews and field trips and personal reflections? In which sections can one avoid losing significant points for deficits in oral class participation or difficulty with reading-intensive multiple choice tests? In which sections is key information offered only orally? Which sections lack an online presence with straightforward steps for submitting assignments electronically and timely feedback on grades?

After all, even within the most autism-friendly of environments, it’s perhaps too much to expect everyone in power to have the empathy, Theory of Mind skills, and non-rigidity of thinking that it takes to appropriately accommodate the most vulnerable of their AS clients. The next best thing, then, is to give these clients a heads-up about who, specifically, to seek out, and who, specifically, to avoid.

9 comments:

treehousekeeeper said...

This is interesting. As I look back on my college experience 30 years ago as a science major, I would say that it was probably autism friendly. The only group work we ever did was in labs where we had a partner (and I'm guessing that no one would have cared if someone wanted to go it alone, as long as there was enough equipment and materials to go around). Talking in class was not required, and I never wrote a "reflection" (though now that I am doing graduate work in--you guessed it--education, I write them all the time).

In college, I didn't have any experience with note takers or testing accommodations, but I know they had these things available, and a vision impaired friend of mine had no trouble receiving them (though that was vision--getting them for something less...visible...might have been difficult).

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, old-fashioned correspondence courses would have met most of these requirements, other than the fact that there was no way for them to have labs.

FedUpMom said...

I sense frustration in this post ...

Anonymous said...

I went to college at RIT, which has a deaf school, The National Technical Institute for the Deaf. This meant there were about 1500 deaf and hard-of-hearing students on campus. Interpreters were provided for any class they enrolled in, and I was a paid note taker for about 6 different liberal arts courses I took. I often took 12 pages of notes in one two hour lecture and they expected us to make them very, very thorough, as the deaf students couldn't easily watch the interpreters and take notes at the same time.

I wonder if a college like that might already be provided many of the accommodations students with autism need.

Anonymous said...

And those colleges that pay the note-taker? I hope the college tells that note-taker that they report the pay on a 1099 along with the explanation that the $8/hour the college is paying them is really only $6/hr, and the note-taker better not spend that extra $2/hour because they must give it to the IRS to cover both their portion and the employer's portion of FICA.

lgm said...

My child at state U has had his gen eds accomodated. The prof is literally reading powerpoints to the class to benefit the special needs.the powerpoint is available for several days before class. There is now no reason to go to class.One discusses with one's study group. One goes to recitation, where the grad student isnt held to a script, and to office hours for any depth questions.

zb said...

I am encouraged by the thought of universal accommodations (along the lines of universal design) that thinks about the structures that might help many students. A benefit of this approach is that each individual doesn't have to find a special case solution for themselves (though, of course, that's also a drawback, if special case solutions aren't also available).

The example of paid note takers who might be available to students with a variety of disabilities is one approach.
Another is your suggestion that the skill demands of classes be described so that students can make wiser selections about the courses that they will be most likely to benefit from. Group work, computational/math demands, writing demands, outside class work, organization, long term projects, in class tests, class attendance, . . . . are all skill sets that different students may have to differing degrees.

Of course, the problem with the plan of describing what a class will require is that many profs are really making up some of those choices on the fly and don't have well defined plans -- but maybe that's something worth knowing, too.

Anonymous said...

When I was a notetaker, I was paid as an employee, not an independent contractor. I earned $6.02 per hour about fifteen years ago, which may not seem like a lot, but I only took notes for courses I was taking anyway.

Anonymous said...

Yes. My daughter was a note-taker for a blind student in a course she was taking; what it amounted to was that she was careful to take extra-good notes (which she then typed up). Win-Win.