By Rebecca Hansen, Ed.D.
Meet Jeff Staley. Jeff is from Sewickley, Pennsylvania, and is currently studying computer and information technology at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.
Before graduating from Poolesville High School, Jeff earned 15 college credits from coursework in algebra, calculus, analytical geometry, and statistics. Jeff was accepted into The West Virginia Autism Training Center’s College Program for Student’s with Autism Spectrum Disorder following his junior year of high school. For five weeks, between the months of July and August, The College Program hosts a high school summer transition program, in which students who have been accepted by Marshall University take one college class of their choice, live in the residence halls, and participate in social skill development workshops and activities led by peer mentors and mental health counselors.
For the past 10 years, students have reported that this experience helped to ease the transition from high school to college by providing them with newfound self-confidence, autonomy, and understanding of the expectations of advanced learning.
Jeff spent the summer following his junior year of high school earning an additional three college credits in general psychology. During this summer experience, Jeff learned how to balance free time, live away from home, create and maintain peer relationships, and navigate a college landscape. Many people with autism spectrum disorder find comfort and reassurance in experiencing the physical layout of a new environment in advance, guided by a trusted professional who understands how anxiety producing establishing a new routine can be. Proper planning and anticipation of a change in routine can help alleviate the stress and anxiety related to it. The College Program recommends visiting a variety of college campuses to find out the types of supports that may exist to help with academic demands, social opportunities, and residence life needs.
An impressive 94 percent of students who have received services from The College Program have graduated or are currently on track to graduate from Marshall University.
The College Program is dedicated to create safe spaces for people with autism spectrum disorder throughout campus, in the community, and on the job. The College Program’s Allies Supporting Autism Spectrum Diversity movement works to educate people who wish to provide a safe and accepting environment for individuals living with autism spectrum disorder. The one-hour training provides participants with the opportunity to better understand challenges with social communication and provides practical ways in which to best communicate with someone on the autism spectrum. Many people are still afraid to talk to someone with autism because they don’t know what to say or how to best interact. Our advice? Don’t shy away. Invest time in learning more about how autism affects someone’s daily life. Oftentimes, they will thank you for it. Knowledge decreases the fear factor and leads to an environment where everyone can experience a life of quality.
People with autism, such as Jeff, can feel empowered by talking about how the disorder affects daily life. These conversations are at the crux of creating an inclusive campus culture. Neurodiversity is becoming better understood and sought after on campuses throughout the nation and beyond the graduation stage as employers are now seeking to hire people with autism. Employers are beginning to see the benefits of hiring someone with autism because they have established creative interviewing practices so that the candidate’s skill set is emphasized over their potential inability to maintain small talk.
Every June, for three weekdays, The College Program offers an employment preparedness workshop where participants have the opportunity to learn more about the job search process, cover letter and resume development, the proper use of social media, issues surrounding disclosure, self-advocacy skills, finance management, and the importance of networking. A panel of local employers from a variety of businesses and non-profit sectors participate to share the necessary skills to obtain and maintain employment. The College Program recognizes the importance of meaningful employment and the need that exists for practical information to assist students as they transition into more independent adults. What to learn more about Jeff? Check out marshall.edu/collegeprogram/employment-preparedness and watch the six-minute video about the Employment Preparedness Workshop.
To learn more about how to become an ally, participate in the employment preparedness workshop, or to apply to The College Program, please visit marshall.edu/collegeprogram or call 304-696-2332.