Kent State Students Form New Autism Student Organization
Group created by students with autism spectrum disorder to highlight diversity, not disability
Kent State University is once again starting a new fall semester with an abundance of enthusiastic students, but one thing is strikingly different: Kent State has a new student organization on campus that joins the few of its type in the nation. Autism Connections Kent has been created by students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their allies with the focus that autism spectrum disorder is a diversity issue and not a disability.
“A lot of symptoms of ASD are great assets in certain careers; hyper-focus and devotion can produce a ‘genius’ idea even when a person doesn’t have an extraordinary IQ,” says Alyx Weaver, Kent State doctoral student and president of Autism Connections Kent. “College can be an important experience in realizing your true potential. I want other students on the spectrum to feel like they belong here, and what they are doing in college matters. They shouldn’t feel their ASD is a constant burden.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism spectrum disorder is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges, so people with autism spectrum disorder may communicate, interact, behave and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The CDC estimates about 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, and in boys, autism spectrum disorder is about 4.5 times more common (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189). Many who are high functioning are enrolling in postsecondary programs and entering professional careers.
“Kent State’s Autism Task Force, created about a year ago, is composed of faculty, staff, students, parents and community members, and has been an integral part in spreading awareness, understanding and support for those with autism spectrum disorder,” says Gina Campana, assistant director of diversity assessment and research in Kent State’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, who also serves as co-advisor of Autism Connections Kent. “Through this task force, the students expressed interest in forming a student organization, and I encouraged them to do so. That was the only little push they needed. They jumped at the opportunity, and it was formed rather quickly. I cannot wait to see what this extraordinary group of students is going to accomplish.”
Lisa Audet, Ph.D., Kent State assistant professor of speech pathology and audiology and coordinator of the Autism Initiative for Research, Education and Outreach, serves as co-advisor for Autism Connections Kent.
“Kent State is home to many talented, degree-seeking students with ASD, who have a great deal to contribute to our campus and in their future careers,” says Audet, who also serves as a faculty associate in Kent State’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “The Autism Connections Kent student group is an avenue through which they can collectively and individually create an environment of inclusiveness and appreciation of diverse talents.”
For more information about autism initiatives at Kent State, visit www.kent.edu/diversity/autism-initiatives.