College autism programs do help students succeed. For students with autism like Sarah Brisman, the transition from high school to college can seem difficult at best and impossible at worst.
“Like many people with autism, I have a hard time with social interaction with my peers, loud noises and interruptions to my routine. So, entering college presented a very huge hurdle for me. No longer would I enjoy the protection of a teacher’s aide to follow my every step. As a legal adult, I would have to learn to be my best advocate and become self-reliant.”
Sarah, one of our ASD Ascend 2021 Autism College Scholarship winners, was fortunate enough to live near Lehigh Carbon Community College that has its own college autism programs for students with autism called SEED AACHIEVE. The program has coaches and advisers who help students navigate the challenges of college life. Sarah was awarded our scholarship because of how well she identified her needs and used the resources that were available to her.
She enrolled in SEED AACHIEVE because it helps prepare incoming students for the challenging transition to college life. The skills she learned in her program have helped her create a routine that has allowed her to thrive while fulfilling her degree requirements, as well as improving her communication skills. She wrote,
“I am naturally shy, so speaking to new professors and asking the right questions can be difficult. I have practiced such skills with my SEED coaches and each time conversations with professors become easier.
These new skills were especially important when COVID hit and all classes were moved online. Sarah learned how to speak with professors and coaches via Zoom and felt able to advocate for herself, even online.
Sarah is receiving excellent grades, making new friends in her classes and clubs, and truly enjoying her studies. She looks forward to earning her degree in Digital Arts and to a successful future career.
Hunter Garret, another ASD Ascend scholarship winners, also credits his college autism program for his successful college experience. Hunter is a current junior at Western Kentucky University. Even though the school was far from his home in Ohio, and much further away than the college his older brother had attended, Hunter felt like WKU was the right fit for him. The Kelly Autism Program (KAP) at WKU played a big part in his decision.
Hunter reminisced about the many challenges he’s overcome during his college experience. Living so far from home, making decisions on his own, taking care of himself, staying on top of his classwork–not to mention having COVID thrown into the mix–fills him with pride and confidence that he can continue to succeed after college.
He’s quick to thank the KAP staff for their role in his success, from assisting him with time and homework management, to discussing any stressors in his life, to helping him prepare for future projects. He wrote, “These people have been there for me, and just think, they manage to be there for over a hundred other students like me: on their own, with varying places on the spectrum. And for all that help, I truly am thankful. I mean, the fact that I’ve made it halfway through my junior year of college is a feat in itself.”
Forming and maintaining friendships has always been difficult for Ryan Slaughter, ASD Ascend scholarship winner. Knowing that he would need extra help developing social and communication skills, he and his mom did a lot of research on college autism programs to find the best-suited college for him. They eventually decided on the University of Tennessee, home of the Mosaic program.
They both are determined to get Ryan the best possible education in order to help him realize his dreams of graduating from college, working as an engineer, living independently from his family, making friends, and contributing to the community.
Living independently is one goal that he’ll soon realize when he begins the Mosaic program in the fall, which is far from his home in California. Ryan can’t wait to take this next big step, and we are thrilled to help him take it.
Ryan wrote, “Despite being in a single parent household and a student herself, my mom did everything she could to help me expand my knowledge and experiences. She instilled in me a strong sense of self, despite my special needs. Through activities in Boy Scouts, I learned to scuba dive, and backpack, two things I never thought I would do because of my asthma and my disability. These accomplishments have made me the person I am today; to always try new things no matter what the challenge and that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.”
All of our scholarship winners in college autism programs have displayed this same spirit of determination, as well as a willingness to use the resources around them for extra support when they need it. We are very proud of these students and know that their futures will be very bright indeed.
Stay tuned for our next blog post which discusses the struggles of our remaining two scholarship winners. They are both high achievers who share the unique and unseen struggles of college students navigating autism and college.