The Autism Program works with professor to support families and students

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Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

By Samantha Boyle, Staff Writer

Hedda Meadan, associate professor at the Department of Special Education, is currently working to develop an app that would allow parents to receive support when dealing with a child who has autism.

Meadan said she is developing the app because she feels there needs to be much more training for parents and professionals.

“We’re developing an app not just for kids with autism, but kids with disabilities or have challenging behavior,” she said.

The app will give parents access to support and resources, such as video training, which will hopefully benefit them.

Autism affects about 1 in 68 children, according to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in College: Results from a Preliminary Mixed Methods, a study conducted in 2016.

The study said only about 41 percent of students with autism will apply for higher education and graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

“The disability doesn’t disappear, but people learn how to work and succeed in what they want to do,” Meadan said.

The Autism Program provides resources such as phone support and social skills workshops for people with autism. They also provide resources and support for families and professionals.

“The Autism Program is essential for our community and the University,” Meadan said.

The Autism Program is located on campus, but it is not directly partnered with the University.  

Coordinator of the program Linda Tortorelli said when families come to her, The Autism Program is able to guide them in the right direction to get the support they need.

“The way college students that are on the (autism) spectrum have used us is for resource referral support,” Tortorelli said.

Tortorelli said she was once contacted by a University student’s parents because he was starting to do poorly, and they did not know where to look for resources.

“He was a kid that had a lot of support through his academic years, probably too much support,” she said.

The student was high functioning and gifted in the arts. The study said about half of the patients diagnosed with autism are high functioning.

However, because of the amount of support he received in his past academic career, he did not want any more in college.

“(His) mom was just desperate to find some help,” Tortorelli said.

The Autism Program ended up thinking of some resources to help him and were able to get him to graduation.

Tortorelli said kids need to be taught to be better self-advocates for themselves so when they start to live on their own or go to college, asking for help and resources is easier.

Meadan’s studies focus on children with autism, so she said a family may contact her if they have a child or student with autism and are looking for support.

“Every time a family contacts me, I tell them about The Autism Program,” Meadan said.

Meadan said the purpose of the program is diverse. One aspect of the program is community outreach.

Tortorelli also said she wishes there could be a bigger resource center for students with autism so they can feel more comfortable being there and asking for support.

As of now, The Autism Program and autism outreach is limited due to lack of space and resources. Autism awareness is not very high either, according to Meadan.

Meadan also said it is difficult for society to accept people who are a little bit different.

When it comes to autism, the same theory applies; however, it is different for kids compared to older students or adults.

“I think society is more open to accept younger kids, because they’re cute and they smile and they run,” she said. “But when they’re older, it’s much more difficult to accept how different they are.”  

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