With autism rates rising each year, how could finding the right universities with programs for autistic students prove so difficult? Psychologist Ann Hartlage asked this question when the twin grandsons she loved so much neared their high school graduation. Ann’s network should have made finding the right college easy. After years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago, she served as an Associate Professor at a teaching hospital.
The twin’s collection of Science Olympiad medals showed their potential. Peter’s fascination with biology leads him to dream of extending human life spans. Grant gathers climate data from researchers to update Wikipedia entries. But their success in high school required constant coaching and monitoring. To reach their aspirations, they would need college. However, based on their social and executive functioning skills, just dropping them into a school would doom them to fail.
Peter and Grant’s challenges began as youngsters. Whenever they came to a school or kids program, and no matter how the program staff claimed to be ready for different kids, their family expected “the call.” A staff member would apologetically explain that the twins failed to follow the group. They proved too disruptive. Please come get them. Even in the joyful moments, they showed differences. As the twins watched fireworks, excitement drove them to jump up and down with arms flapping. Bystanders whispered that their parents should do something to stifle such an embarrassing display.
Years later, the boys, family, and grandparents would visit more than 20 colleges and meet with special needs coordinators looking for universities with programs for autistic students that fit. Some programs showed promise, but most fell short. Everyone wished for a better way to vet potential schools.
Dr. Ann Hartlage and her husband Larry aim to provide that better way. A clinical psychologist who also earned a master’s degree in special education, Ann has taught and treated people on the autism spectrum. Lt. Colonel Larry Feltes retired from 24 years in the Air Force and turned his organizational skills to a family business, the largest harvest-festival farm in the Midwest. He volunteers as a mentor and business planning expert for entrepreneurs with the Service Core of Retired Executives (SCORE).
ASD Ascend database comes from these grandparents’ work to help other families find universities with programs for autistic students that help them reach their aspirations. Meanwhile, twins Peter and Grant thrive as sophomores in college.
Dave Hartlage, Father of the twins