April was designated Autism Awareness Month, and April 2 is officially the “Light It Up Blue Day.” More than 3 million people are currently affected by autism in the United States, and many more millions around the globe, so Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization is trying to raise awareness about this disease by encouraging people to shine a (blue) light on this day.
Latest statistics presented by the Centers for Disease Control showed that an estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls receive the autism diagnose in the United States. Even though experts don’t know why, the frequency rates increase from 10 to 17 percent annually.
While the population of people who are on the autism spectrum expands more and more, specialists have started wondering if higher education institutions are doing enough to allow this group of students to gain the best learning experience. Many of those on the autism spectrum are able to understand and do college-tasks, as their range of abilities covers a wide scope.
Traditionally, students that have been diagnosed with a form of autism could only go as high as completing high school, with college or post-secondary education out of their reach. Fortunately, that is up for change.
Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, PhD from Harvard Medical School, said that statistics show a positive increase in number of autism students attending a college or university, more than 20 percent during 2003 to 2009. Higher education institutions have learned to adapt their curriculum, so that those with autism can attend and succeed.
In the last few years, a lot of universities in the United States (and worldwide) have been actively easing access for autistic students, and for those with various disabilities. How? University boards have started understanding that students who are on the spectrum need personalized adjustments in order to be able to cope with higher education. Everything is different about them: the way they communicate, how the cope with stress and social interaction, and their learning styles.
Taking all these factors into consideration, disabilities offices are mediating meetings between professors and students before each semester, where they come up with a personalized curriculum which allows the student to succeed. It’s not about lowering the university’s standards, but more about specific adjustments, like preferred classroom seating, providing notetakers, or allowing extended time for tests and projects.
Besides the obvious benefit for those on the autism spectrum, who have better chances of entering the job marketplace if they achieve a college degree, it has also been proved that autism students in the campus has benefited the community by reducing stigma. It is also encouraging to see many university professors who have never taught students with autism before, but who are grateful for the chance as they are able to help.
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