April is Autism Awareness Month. According to the Autism Research Center, one in 54 school-aged students have autism.
According to Kirkwood’s Learning Services Autism Advocate AJ Richard, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that effects how people with autism experience the world.
Richard explained how autism is a spectrum disorder but doesn’t have a linear range such as “high functioning” and “low functioning.” Each person is different, so someone could be skilled in one area such as language, but then lack in social skills, she said.
Richard added that autism is a form of ‘neurodiversity.’ Neurodiversity is an acknowledgment that people can have differently wired brains that impact how they interact with others and the world. This shows and helps people understand that different is not inferior but a strength instead, she said.
Some students may need assistance to help them be successful in college. Kirkwood offers a variety of accommodations for students through Learning Services, located in 2063 Cedar Hall. Students can also call the office as well at 319-398-5574.
Through Learning Services, students are able obtain information and applications about accommodations, ASK and TRIO.
Students can also consider visiting the Counseling Office. According to Brenda Cooley, VITAL instructor at Kirkwood, the counselors on campus do an amazing job supporting students who have autism and connecting them with additional resources.
Cooley said Kirkwood makes sure that all new faculty and staff are educated about autism and are trained in strategies that will help students who have autism be successful in college classes. She went on to say that Kirkwood supports VITAL, which is a program designed to assist students with disabilities (including autism) in transitioning from high school to college.
Kirkwood also offers ASK, which is designed specifically to support students on the spectrum, as well as the TRIO program that can help and support students with disabilities.
Cooley added that the counseling team also does a good job hosting presentations and bringing in speakers related to diversity and acceptance of all.
The purpose of Autism Awareness month is to help increase the education about autism.
According to AJ Richard, many in the autism community state that ‘awareness is not enough.’ She added that people with autism need support and services to help lead them to healthy, meaningful lives, but there has been well-documented evidence that there is a lack of support and the services they need.
Richard stated that this is the reason people are trying to change Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month.
Cooley said she gets excited for Autism Awareness Month. She stated it is a month of acceptance and hope for a population that has not always experienced that. She added more and more people are becoming informed about autism and realizing that they probably know several people who have autism.
Cooley said she often meets one-on-one with instructors who have her students with autism in their classes. She also keeps in touch with those instructors via email or phone to discuss any questions or concerns about how to best support her students.
She added that she also tries to register for any presentations that support diverse learners and even registers for Zoom sessions that help her develop more strategies she can use and forward to her students.
Cooley stated the students she has worked with who have autism have been intelligent, creative, caring individuals. She said she feels very fortunate to have the opportunity to spend the majority of her day working with these students.
Art & Life Editor