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Not your typical higher ed autism program

Austin Peay State University’s Full Spectrum Learning initiative offers one-on-one peer tutoring and life coaching
University Business, November 2015
Participants in Austin Peay State University’s Full Spectrum Learning spend an hour per week covering the transition to college, social and independence skills, and academic success strategies.
Participants in Austin Peay State University’s Full Spectrum Learning spend an hour per week covering the transition to college, social and independence skills, and academic success strategies.

Programs for students on the autism spectrum are no longer a unique campus concept, but Austin Peay State University’s Full Spectrum Learning (FSL) initiative stands out from the crowd.

Input in shaping FSL comes from all groups involved—especially students with autism who participate in the program and their upperclassmen mentors. In addition, the effort is housed in the Tennessee university’s education department rather than in the disabilities services office.

Modeled after the The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s MoSAIC program, FSL includes one-on-one peer tutoring and mentoring, life coaching and support.

It covers concepts every student needs to know but that those on the spectrum may need extra help with—such as providing health services with their medical histories or reading a syllabus, says program director Gina Grogan, an assistant professor of special education.

She and other Austin Peay educators and administrators took the program from conception to launch in less than a year, with the input of various groups, including students with autism.

Sound bite

“Think about how [college] is for a normal student and how overwhelming it is. Magnify that with high anxiety and hesitancy toward big crowds and new situations. It is overwhelming and can be paralyzing.”

—Gail Richard, director of the Eastern Illinois University Autism Center, which in August launched the Students with Autism Transitional Education Program, featuring mentoring and a support group to help students adjust to college life

Source: The Washington Times

“They are the experts,” she says. “Since the program is for them, they need to be the ones who mold it. They can tell me if a particular thing is not beneficial or, ‘Let’s not do this but instead this other thing.’ ”

Participants spend an hour per week in a class covering the transition to college, social and independence skills, and academic success strategies. Each student also meets with a mentor for an hour and a tutor for an hour each week.

They sign up through the College of Education instead of through the disabilities services office, which Grogan says is meant to encourage more participation.

“There’s a stigma of special education in public schools,” she says, adding that the disabilities services office is still involved.

Other offices playing a role include the support center, the business office, financial aid and admissions. The program is currently free, thanks to grants, and Grogan says the goal is for Full Spectrum Learning to be self-sustaining, at no charge to students.

Grogan blogs about the program at http://FSLatthepeay.blogspot.com.

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