With support, autistic students find greater success in college
It's bedtime in her Arizona home on a recent summer night as Catherine Moreno softly taps her son's forehead, a gentle reminder to come back.
"You're with mommy now, be with mommy," Moreno says.
Daniel, her 10-year-old son, has been diagnosed with autism. For kids like Daniel, it is hard to stop themselves from slipping into their own little world, to escape from the nearly constant sensory overload that comes with the disorder.
Daniel is one in 110 children in America who has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and those numbers are climbing, according to AutismSpeaks.org, making autism more common than pediatric AIDS, juvenile diabetes and childhood cancers combined.
That rise has coincided with an era of increased acceptance of those with disabilities, which partly explains why more students with autism are enrolling in college and earning degrees.
There are different levels of functionality for those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, a range of developmental disorders which includes Aspergers Syndrome, Rett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. For many with ASD, socializing doesn't come easy, because of sensory hypersensitivity and the failure to pick up on social cues.
Steven Moody, a junior and psychology major at Utah Valley University, has been diagnosed with high-functioning Aspergers. Moody worries about parking, class assignments and making deadlines, like every other student, but he also has other stresses others don't.
Moody had to learn through trial and error the right amount of eye contact to make during conversations and even the appropriate number of questions to ask.
The social struggles also make it difficult for Moody and others with ASD to approach an instructor about their special needs. Approaching an instructor can be intimidating, and Moody is often hesitant.
At UVU the Accessibility Center will often speak with professors on behalf of students seeking assistance, and will ask instructors to be more understanding to a student's particular needs, as well as be clear about expectations and assignments, according UVU's Director of Accessibility Services, Edward Martinelli.
These students "take things very literally, so they need specifics and examples," Martinelli said. "We encourage communication to be done by email. That can be helpful because they get specific information and they can go back and read it again. It can also be easier for them to compose an email than to speak face to face."