Kent State Recognized for Autism Initiatives
Two of Kent State University’s autism initiatives ranked No. 10 in “The Top 20 Best Colleges for Students With Autism” from OnlineCollegePlan and No. 20 in the “20 Best Value Colleges for Students With Autism 2017-2018” from BestValueSchools.com and #5 in the “25 Best Colleges for students with Autism for 2017” from CollegeChoice.net.
The two initiatives recognized were the Autism Advocates program run by Gina Campana, assistant director for planning, assessment and research management in Kent State’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; and the Autism Initiative for Research, Education and Outreach program run by Lisa Audet, Ph.D., assistant professor in speech pathology and audiology in the College of Education, Health and Human Services.
Autism Advocates was modeled after a similar pilot advocates’ program within Kent State’s Student Multicultural Center. Ms. Campana saw how effective the program was and wanted to expand it to other groups.
Ms. Campana says the Autism Advocates program is a chance for undergraduate students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to pair up with a faculty or staff member for support throughout the academic year. These students meet with their advocate three times a semester in order to discuss how they are doing and what help they may need.
“The students love it,” Ms. Campana says. “They have a person to go to with questions and someone to help them maneuver college.”
The Autism Advocates program was created as an initiative of the University Diversity Action Council run by Alfreda Brown, Kent State’s vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion. It is made up of students, faculty, staff and administrators who meet once a month to work on diversity-related initiatives.
Ms. Campana was not surprised Kent State’s autism initiatives received this recognition due to feedback from students and some of her research findings.
“I was not surprised at all,” she says. “Dr. Brown approached me to write a proposal for these initiatives in 2014, and I did research to find similar services to see what was successful and what was not. I realized from this research that there are not many services like ours out there.
The Autism Initiative for Research, Education and Outreach initiative includes two programs: the Partnering for Achievement and Learning Success (P.A.L.S.) program and the College Success for Student’s With Asperger’s Syndrome or autism program.
“I tried to get the P.A.L.S. program started in 2013, but no one with ASD was interested in participating,” Dr. Audet says. “This fall, I have more individuals with high-functioning autism than neurotypical students.”
The College Success for Student’s with Asperger’s Syndrome or autism program provides self-advocacy training and job/career assistance. Through the P.A.L.S. program, students with autism build a network with other students and connect with people around campus. They get feedback about day-to-day issues they normally would not receive.
Similar to P.A.L.S., the Autism Advocate program pairs students with ASD with a faculty or staff member for support throughout the academic year. These students meet with their advocate three times a semester in order to discuss how they are doing and what help they may need.
In the future, Ms. Campana and Dr. Audet want to broaden their autism initiative and program outreach on campus and provide additional programs for students with ASD who need help adjusting to college. Ms. Campana and Dr. Audet do not work on these initiatives full-time. They are hoping in the future they can grow these programs and hire full-time personnel to work on these and other initiatives so that students with hidden disabilities can be successful at Kent State.
“What I do for autism is a small portion of my job,” Ms. Campana says. “I thought of these initiatives when my son started college here because he has Asperger’s Syndrome and needed help adjusting to college.”
“My overall hope is that we will have more outreach to those individuals on the autism spectrum so they will feel more comfortable becoming engaged and successful here and beyond,” Dr. Audet says.