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Posts Tagged ‘Autism Speaks college’

Be Who You Are

September 12, 2011 4 comments

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a graduate student at Seton Hall University. He started the club Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events.

Have you ever had that day when someone calls you or one of your loved ones awkward, odd, or weird? I think I’ve been called all of those words every year since I was nine. What do these words even mean now anyways? I think the easiest way of thinking of this in today’s society is someone who is away from the “norm.” That one person who does something that doesn’t seem “right.” Society has set us up with a standard that is set for us to judge without reason.

This standard has hurt people with autism for decades. When I was diagnosed with autism at age 4, I would soon have some tendencies that would be far different than the established norm. I was going to have a hard time with eye contact, some difficulty with my motor skills and also would have a hard time speaking in front of crowds. None of this makes me any less of a person as the next. I don’t want the pity that some grant for having a disorder either. I just want to know that at the end of the day I’ll be allowed to be me with no judgment, no questions asked.

That’s why when I write this blog I encourage everyone reading, to lead by example by taking action. If we let ourselves and our loved ones be who they are proudly, we defy and ignore the criticisms of others and hopefully lead to a better, more aware world; autism and all. As a college graduate with autism, does this mean I may have some difficult times from others ahead? You bet. It sure beats the alternative though of not being who I want and was meant to be, and that someone is me.

*What things have people said about who you are you that make you different from the norm? Feel free to comment below!*

This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at kerry.magro@autismspeaks.org or through my Facebook Page here.

College Fashionistas Support Autism Speaks U

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

The Autism Speaks U Chapter at the University of Michigan’s co-founders (Maressa Criscito & Alex Lewisohn) interviewed collegiate entrepreneurs and twins, Samantha and Morgan Elias. These 21 year old sisters are the brains behind The Vintage Twin. Samantha, a member of Autism Speaks U at the University of Michigan, and Morgan, who attends New York University, recently hosted a trunk show on August 1 in New York City, donating over $550 to Autism Speaks.

Owners of The Vintage Twin with Autism Speaks U Co-Founders at Trunk Show Benefiting Autism Speaks U

The Vintage Twin, which was founded and self-financed in August 2009 with a trunk show in the their mother’s basement, is now a burgeoning brand; the first to use only recycled materials in creating one-of-a-kind original designs. Recreating vintage clothing, home goods, and accessories, TVT is a retail revolution offering people a style that is all their own.

1. Do you have a personal connection to autism? If so, please explain.

Our eldest sister is a speech pathologist and we have each shadowed her in working with children with autism. More close to home, our first cousin has asperger syndrome and we have watched him grow and overcome the hardships of staying in a specialized mainstream school.

 2. Why do you feel it is important to host events for Autism Speaks?

Autism affect MILLIONS of people on varying degrees and the numbers only seem to be growing.   Awareness must be raised, but more importantly, funds must be raised to better the quality of life for those who live a lifetime with it, rather than many medicinal fundraisers that are focused on fatal diseases.

3. How did you become involved with the Autism Speaks U program?

My best friends (Maressa & Alex) started it at The University of Michigan!

 4. What other events have you hosted for Autism Speaks or other charities in the past?

We have previously donated to Project Kids Worldwide.

 5. Why is it important for college students to be educated about autism?

Autism is EVERYWHERE and not going anywhere fast. We need to be aware, able to coexist and assist people in assimilating despite their social challenges. 

6. What kind of impact can the fashion world have on spreading autism awareness?

As the brand grows and we continue to have events benefiting Autism Speaks U, our fan bases can combine to not only raise money for the cause, but also to spread awareness within the vast world of fashionistas and fundraisers.

7. What advice do you have for other students who are also interested in becoming entrepreneurs?

START. Whether it’s selling out of your closet or opening a store, start now!

8. What are your future plans for your business?  Any specific designers/trends or events your fans should keep an eye out for?

Our website is going to be an awesome destination for affordable unique wears for ALL.

 9.  What was the biggest challenge that you faced during the creation of your business?  How did you overcome it?

The website. We raised enough money to afford creating an in-house studio that will fill our website with hundreds of items daily.

10)  Would you be interested in hosting other events with Autism Speaks in the future?

DEFINITELY- namely in Ann Arbor and also online. Last month,  supporters were able to save 10% on their purchase with 10% of the  proceeds  going back to Autism Speaks U.

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College students, faculty and alumni can get involved with our college program, Autism Speaks U, by visiting www.AutismSpeaks.org/U. Autism Speaks U works with college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

My Voice

June 1, 2011 2 comments

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a recent graduate of Seton Hall University. He started the club Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

Almost a month ago I had the opportunity to speak at an Autism Awareness Event co-sponsored by the Mayor of Jersey City, Jeremiah Healy, the Jersey City Council and the Jersey City Public Schools.  I was honored as the keynote speaker of the event to talk about my experience with autism. I also received a proclamation from Jersey City, which is the second largest city in New Jersey and my hometown for my work on the subject.

While this was a wonderful honor, the best part of the event was the relationships I made with the parents who approached me afterwards. At the end of the day, this is the reason why I speak. To network but also to help consult for individuals with loved ones on the spectrum. In our community, we can only go as far as we are willing to help one another. There’s so much we have learned on the subject but there’s still a long way to go. Communication between all parties can never be excluded from the conversation. As I said in my speech that day, “Early Intervention is the Key,” however, communication is a close second.

Below you can find the video of my speech at that event. In it I share “My Voice” on the subject of autism and what it truly means to me. Feel free to comment below.

This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at kerry.magro@autismspeaks.org.

This One’s For You

May 19, 2011 28 comments

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a recent graduate of Seton Hall University. He started the club Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

Yesterday was my graduation from Seton Hall University. As this has been one of the most emotional and happiest days of my life I have taken some time to reflect on my journey and get my thoughts down on paper. Many people told me that my road towards a good education was going to be rough. The word “impossible” was a word that I learned very early on in regards to people’s opinions about whether or not I could get to college let alone graduate from college. Now I just have to say…

Kerry at graduation wearing the Autism Speaks pin, along with the 15 honor chords he collected at college.

To the physician who told me when I was 6 that I would be lucky to get to high school, this one’s for you.

For the Special Education teachers who would look down at me like I was broken, this one’s for you.

For the years of being taunted and bullied by kids, saying I can’t and wouldn’t achieve greatness, this one’s for you.

For the people who helped me through physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy till I was 14, this one’s for you.

For my parents, friends and relatives, who see me as an individual first who is/was never broken, this one’s for you.

For those teachers who said I could do it, this one’s for you.

For the countless other individuals out there who are autistic or love someone who is autistic, this one’s for you.

For the people who say you can’t do something even though you can this one’s for you.

For the people at Autism Speaks who have given me the chance to express my “voice” and help others through the Autism Speaks Blog for over a year now, this one’s for you.

At the end of the day our influences in our lives send us on our path, either good or bad. When I was 4 I was diagnosed on the spectrum. Now 18 years later I’m a college graduate who will be going to graduate school for a Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership. For all those people, again, the good and the bad, thank you. You’ve made me who I am today and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

…This one’s for you.

*On a side note, I wanted to add that I will be starting a scholarship program for individuals on the spectrum who are pursuing a post secondary program later this year. As a student, I know there is a lack of scholarship funding in this area and know even the smallest amount helps. Thanks for reading and remember to keep pushing everyday! We can all make a difference!*

This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at kerry.magro@autismspeaks.org.

My Name is Kerry and I have PDD-NOS

March 7, 2011 36 comments

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started the club Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

My name is Kerry and I have Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified.

This means I have autism.

This does not mean I am autism.

This means I see the world sometimes in a different light.

This does not mean I’m in the dark.

This means from time to time I may have a difficulty expressing my emotions.

This does not mean I don’t feel.

This means when I communicate, I do it with a style that is my own.

This does not mean I don’t have a voice.

This means I may have sensitivity when it comes to a certain feel or touch.

This means sounds can sometimes make me feel uneasy.

This does not mean I’m deaf or hard of hearing.

This means I can often focus on certain interests for a long period of time.

This does not mean those are my only interests.

This means that I’m the only person in my family to have this.

This does not mean I’m alone.

This means I may have 500 other symptoms/capabilities that are different than yours.

This does not mean I’m any less of a person than you are.

My name is Kerry, and regardless of what PDD-NOS means or doesn’t mean, autism can’t define me, I define autism. I can only hope those individuals, regardless of being autistic or not can define their lives and their journeys in the way they see it.

*I wrote this about 6 months ago with my eyes closed and with an open heart. I believe we all need something; a symbol in some cases, to remind us of who we are and what we are striving to be. This is one article that has helped me immensely.  I plan on sharing this article with my school for World Autism Awareness Day along with an Autism Society of America Conference this Summer. You can also find this article here. Thank you.*

My Pledge

February 14, 2011 11 comments

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started the club Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

Ever since I was aware that I was on the spectrum I’ve always had difficulty over hearing people use certain words in their every day conversations.  I’m bringing this up, since I have recently been in a situation where one of my peers used the word “autism” in a derogatory fashion about one of my friends who was not on the spectrum. As someone who has been advocating for those on the spectrum for several years now I have always tried to pick my battles wisely. Sometimes though it’s not that simple; you have to say enough is enough and take a stand on something, no matter the costs.

My friend said during this conversation, “Why is she not speaking tonight, it’s like she has autism or something.” As soon as this was said, I was angry. Angry that someone would use autism in that context and also how someone would use the word knowing that I was on the spectrum. This was not the first time I had heard the word autism being used like this, but I knew this was the last time I wanted to hear it. Instead of getting angry and verbally lashing out, I am taking the time to educate people about the hurtfulness some words can have on certain individuals.

With this I had an idea. Over a year ago I took a pledge to stop using the word “retarded” via the Spread the Word to End The Word Campaign through the website r-word.org. With permission, our Autism Speaks U Chapter at Seton Hall will also be doing a similar project in relation to World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd. Today however I would like to make a pledge via the Autism Speaks Blog in regards to autism. With this, I am also making a pledge to put myself out there to say what is on my mind more and to be more open to people in general. Over the past couple of years I have learned that there is a tremendous opportunity for myself to do some good for many families and individuals on the spectrum.

I encourage others to make a pledge, regardless if you are on the spectrum or not because the bottom line is you can make a difference and it all starts off with awareness. Here’s my pledge:

I, Kerry Magro, make the pledge to not use the word autism in a derogatory fashion due to the harmful effects it has on certain individuals. I will also make my voice heard and educate others who want to learn and/or are unaware about autism. As an individual on the spectrum, I hereby take it as my duty to stand up and protect my fellow brothers and sisters in the autistic community as we progress forward within our disability movement. Nothing About Us Without Us.”- James Charlton

(Would you be willing to make a pledge? Feel free to post your own pledges in the comment section below. Thank You.)

This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at kerry.magro@autismspeaks.org.

Autism Speaks U Spotlight: Miami University in Ohio

January 10, 2011 4 comments

This guest post is by Katie Weeks, a senior at the University of Miami in Ohio studying Speech Pathology and Child Studies/Disability Studies. She started an Autism Speaks U chapter and has done a fantastic job spreading awareness and raising funds on campus and in the Cincinnati area. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

My first exposure to autism was in high school.  Before I met Aneta, I knew virtually nothing about the complex disorder.  I was asked to help Aneta, my U.S. History classmate, a student with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Throughout the year, I battled frustration and confusion in our daily one-on-one sessions.  Eventually I practiced patience and gained empathy. Little did I know that this experience would trigger my exploration of and ultimate decision to pursue a career in speech pathology in order to work with those affected by autism.

My involvement with Autism Speaks began fairly recently.  Last summer I interned at the Autism Speaks’ Chicagoland Chapter office.  I had the unique opportunity to participate in a project which provided valuable free resources to families with newly diagnosed children.  During spring semester of 2010 before my internship, I researched student organizations on campus and found nothing related to autism.  This spurred my interest to see what it would take to start an Autism Speaks U chapter.  I initially met with a group of driven students I knew from various places around campus and formed our executive board.  From there we gained official student organization status and were ready to start planning events for the upcoming school year!

The response we got from the student body at our first meeting was amazing! There were over 200 students packed into a room that held 50, all eager to learn what our new organization was about.  Needless to say, we moved to a larger auditorium for our bi-monthly meetings.  At our chapter meetings we either have a speaker discuss their personal experiences with autism or show a video.  Our goals as an organization are to raise funds for Autism Speaks, volunteer within the local autism community and raise awareness among students and faculty on Miami’s camps.

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Our first semester on campus was extremely successful!  We held several different fundraising events including a bake sale, a holiday pottery-painting event, silly band fundraisers, and a happy hour.  So far we have raised almost $1,800 for Autism Speaks.  We’ve also reached out to the local community by hosting a “family fun day” at Butterfield Farms, where families affected by autism participated in a corn maze and hay ride!  Next semester we are hoping to plan a “Kids Night Out” babysitting event at a local elementary school to give parents a break.  We are also looking forward to volunteering at the Cincinnati Center for Autism and Safe Haven Farms, a local community for adults on the spectrum.

Our big event next semester will be our 5k run/walk which will be held on campus on April 17th.  We are going to reach out to the Greek community and other campus organizations so that participants can sign up as a team.  From there participants will be able to go to our Autism Speaks U event page and individually fundraise from their families and friends. We will be advertising all semester and hope to see a large turnout for our culminating event of the school year! For more information, feel free to email me at weeksmk@muohio.edu.

If you are involved with Autism Speaks U on your campus and would like your story to be featured on the Autism Speaks blog, please send it to AutismSpeaksU@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

Autism’s Affirmative Action

January 5, 2011 2 comments

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started an Autism Speaks U Chapter: Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

I wanted to start this post off with a scenario for you; imagine a 22-year-old college senior interviewing for job placement after he graduates. This individual is on the autism spectrum. Now, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are not allowed to discriminate based on disability. This sounds fair, right? Well, here’s the catch. Other minorities have the promise of Affirmative Action, a set of positive steps that employers use to promote equal employment opportunity and to eliminate possible discrimination. Those on the autism spectrum are part of a minority, among the largest minority in the United States, and are not given the same rights as other minorities. Nothing in the ADA says that affirmative action needs to be required for the possible employment of someone with a disability, and now more than ever, this puts those gifted individuals at risk of unemployment.

If you guessed correctly you will find that scenario is actually what I’m going through right now. I almost see it as another downgrade for those with autism. Before you even start college you lose your security blanket from high school, your IEP, and when you graduate college, you lose your ability to be treated the same as other minorities. That in itself, is discrimination.

Considering the playing field, starting affirmative action programs that include disabled individuals might be a blessing in disguise. Employers are always looking for the best (or should be) looking for the best quality when hiring someone. The fact is that with a majority of autistic individuals having the capability of mastering a specific skill, it puts them at the top of the recruitment food chain in certain areas. Problems in an interview can come from our socially awkward tendencies, which can put an employer off.

For example, if you have a guy who is great with numbers join a finance firm, who for some reason has a problem with dressing in business casual attire, are you going to fire him because he refuses to wear the clothes that are deemed professional if he is making your company millions? Same with communication difficulties, what happens if the interview doesn’t go smoothly? What if the person has difficulty working with others? Should that matter if the job is getting done effectively? Different variables must be considered for different situations.

I realize that there are many other considerations to address, but at the end of the day it has to scare you if you have a loved one on the spectrum who wants to be considered for a job to know that their equal employment opportunities are actually not as equal as others.  I’ve attended several autism conferences and learned that there are schools/sessions that focus on preparing autistic individuals to find work in the right environment. These prep courses can range in complexity to match the specific learning needs of that individual. However, these sessions usually come at a high expense and are not covered by an insurance provider (like many other treatments).

On the college level, the majority of Disability Support Offices in the Tri-State area are woefully underfunded and don’t focus on this type of training for their students. They have a hard enough time on limited funds supporting them through college. In high school the same can be said of the public schools focus on class integration, not job training. Both approaches save money usually at the student’s expense. If a college can get a student by with “reasonable accommodations” than tomorrow is not their concern.  Because of the way the ADA is structured and the way that affirmative action programs are focused, there needs to be either more job training for on the spectrum individuals or more legislation focused on fairer hiring actions (or both).  James I. Charlton, a disability advocate once said, “Nothing About Us, Without Us.” Autistic individuals, especially young adults have the ability to be a part of the largest disability movement in decades. It’s time for their voices to be heard.

(This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at kerry.magro@autismspeaks.org.)

Starting an Autism Speaks U Chapter: The Essentials

November 8, 2010 1 comment

Autism Speaks UThis guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started an Autism Speaks U Chapter: Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

Starting a new student organization in college can take a lot of time and dedication. Each school has a unique set of requirements and there sometimes isn’t a structure of how to go about starting a chapter, which can cause complications to arise.

However, this is what separates Autism Speaks U from many other college organizations. With help from Autism Speaks U (both their website and staff), we are given the tools to form and create an Autism Speaks U Chapter to spread autism awareness along with fundraising for Autism Speaks.

As a note, before you even consider starting a chapter on campus be sure to review the Autism Speaks U Chapter Guidebook. This gives a detailed description on how to start and maintain an Autism Speaks U chapter. Students will also need to download the 8 Steps to Starting an Autism Speaks U chapter (visit www.AutismSpeaks.org/U and click on “Official Chapters” and select the teal “Start a Chapter” button). It is required that all 8 steps be completed before applying to become an Autism Speaks U chapter. 

What I have below is the process I have been going through, and what I will be expecting at my university in the upcoming months. Remember that every school’s requirements are different, so check with your student affairs office before you begin this process.

In a previous post I discussed my student disability awareness group at Seton Hall University (SHU) and how we merged with Autism Speaks U. With October behind us, the paperwork to make Autism Speaks U a certified organization in the spring is now in the works. The process at SHU involves submitting an application to first gain “provisional status” and then after a 6 month preliminary period, we are acknowledged as a certified student organization. The application for provisional is pretty simple at my university and involves the following:

Name of Organization: Autism Speaks U Seton Hall University

Contact Person: Kerry Magro

Contact Email/Contact Phone: Kerry’s Contact Information

500 Word statement of your proposed organization: Autism Speaks U has a great mission statement that you can expand and customize to fit your chapter’s mission.

Three or more potential members: Create a sign-up sheet and look to your fellow students for help in promoting your chapter. You can walk around campus, have a table in the quad or ask different department heads to send an email on your behalf to their listserv of students.

A list of proposed activities your organization plans to do: Review the events on the Autism Speaks U website to get started and log into the site to access the event templates that provide step-by-step instructions.

A list of programs your organization plans to sponsor: Log into the Autism Speaks U site to review the event templates. They are extremely helpful, along with the Autism Speaks U staff who can help you brainstorm ideas.

A letter of approval by an advisor: Obtaining a faculty advisor can be challenging, but this person can serve as an official school contact for your chapter. He/she can help to promote your events, and/or allow you to make a brief announcement at the beginning or end of his/her classes. All of this will help you to promote your chapter and get more students involved!

After the application is submitted, SHU students are required to sit in front of a student organization council that listens to a presentation about the proposed organization. If everything goes well, you will then gain provisional status.

The next semester students go through the “provisional status” period. During this time, you will apply what you put in your chapter presentation or constitution into real events and programming on campus. The most important things to focus on during this time, especially starting off are:

  • Make sure you understand your school’s policies and procedures for student organizations.
  • Work on structure! Form a constitution where your group can have a backdrop of what they should abide by for each semester. Decide on convenient meeting times for both the chapter board and general meetings; consider starting off small when it comes to commitment (i.e. one board meeting and one chapter meeting a month).
  • Utilize social media. Post all of your events on the Autism Speaks U website and promote your efforts on the Autism Speaks U Facebook page. You can event create an Autism Speaks U Facebook and Twitter Pages for your chapter and add all of your friends.
  • Network, Network, Network! Make sure that students and faculty know about your chapter and get them both involved (especially the education and psychology department and the disability support office).

Autism Speaks U has chapters all across the country. They range from the University of Michigan, George Washington University, Saint Mary’s College, University of San Francisco, Miami University in Ohio, Indiana State University, Northwestern University and more! Many college students today have no idea what autism is or how prevalent it is. This is why creating an Autism Speaks U chapter is so critical in helping to make a difference in spreading the word about autism. If you are a college student reading this or know someone who may have interest in starting a chapter please forward this information along. You can also contact Sarah Caminker, the Autism Speaks U Community Manager, at sarah.caminker@autismspeaks.org for more information.

(This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at kerry.magro@autismspeaks.org. Thanks everyone!)

The End of the IEP and the Beginning of “Reasonable Accommodations”

July 25, 2010 15 comments

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro.  Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started an Autism Speaks U Chapter: Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events. It is an exciting and collaborative way for students to raise funds and awareness for Autism Speaks, while supporting their local autism communities.

In June 2007, I graduated from high school. It was an amazing time for me. The majority of my classmates and I were off to great new beginnings. My new beginning began at Seton Hall University. “This is going to be great!” I thought to myself on many occasions before the first day of classes.

Before this day happened however all new incoming freshman had to attend a summer “Orientation Period.” During this period we would have the chance to spend the night in the freshman dorms, receive our laptops and also get to meet several faculty members at the school. In addition to this, I had one additional separate meeting that most of the other freshman didn’t – an accommodation meeting with The Director of Disability Support Services at SHU.  This is when the ball dropped for me.

During the meeting I learned many intriguing and frightening things about how college was going to be a huge difference from high school; the main difference for me was going to be “The IEP.” When I asked what the difference would be, I was told the difference was I would not have one. I can’t believe I was that oblivious that this was going to happen.  Later, I learned that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) the IEP only exists K-12th grade. At the college door you get a Section 504 accommodations plan.

In college, you only receive “reasonable accommodations” to help make the classes accessible to those specific students with disabilities. The bottom line: there is no plan for you. The only way to receive what you need is by being independent and advocating for your needs. But what does anyone need? If you are a freshman and have autism how do you explain what you need?

At times, this led to many distractions that never would have occurred when I was younger. Sometimes I thought it was unfair. I had to advocate for my own single room in the dorms due to my social complications, extended time on tests for my reading comprehension, a note taker for my classes due to my lack of motor skills and many other complications. For someone trying to fit in it seemed like it was designed to make you stand out like a sore thumb. It even seemed as if as soon as I accomplished one of these tasks, the next semester would begin and it would start all over again for my new courses which required different accommodations.

When you add this to managing a full course load, trying to socialize with your  fellow peers, along with being involved in extra-curricular activities, it can sometimes feels like you are drowning. I mean, “reasonable accommodations” are supposed to help level the playing field, not hinder you in any way. There isn’t a “reasonable accommodation” for that.

Although getting accommodations sometimes was daunting, I was still able to get by and will be going through the same process again with Disability Support Services come this September in my senior year at Seton Hall. For several semesters now I sit up front and tape most of my classes and download the recordings onto my computer, instead of utilizing a note taker. Never would have thought of that freshman year. For those reading who are younger and not yet in college, my advice is to sit in on as many IEP meetings as you can. Learn and ask as many questions as possible.  The letters after your diagnosis don’t tell you if you need extended time or a note taker, but knowing if you are a visual or auditory learner may. Within this I would also strongly consider letting your parents be involved in some of your early decision making, especially when it includes freshman year accommodations. Independence is not grown over night and we all need that added voice sometimes to make sure we are level-headed and knowing exactly what we are getting ourselves into.

As many say early intervention is the key once first diagnosed, early intervention for those on the spectrum in college (and high school for that matter as well) is the key to ultimate success. What I’ve noticed about autism over the years is that it’s not a weakness unless you let it become one. Don’t let it hinder you. Let the advantages of who you are and what you have to offer be your ability to make it at the college level; just always know what your weaknesses are so you can be ready for whatever is to come next!

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