College for autistic students isn't easy, but it is possible
Magro will speak about "College on the Spectrum" Saturday during the Autism Society's national conference in Orlando at theGaylord Palms Resort.
In the United States, about one in 110 children are diagnosed with autism, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Waves of children diagnosed with autism during the 1990s are now approaching college age, said Jessica Dunn, director of an autism support program at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.
And as Magro knows, the transition to university life can be especially rough. Many of the challenges — time management, independent living, making friends — are faced by all students, but autism's effects make them more difficult.
But programs to help college students with autism are sparse, Dunn said.
Jill Bonn, a Longwood resident attending the Orlando conference, said she sent her daughter to an out-of-state college when she couldn't find a Florida school that could adequately support her daughter.
Instead, a program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale offered a transition program that taught her 20-year-old daughter how to live with autism in a college setting. Ultimately her daughter decided the university was too far from home and dropped out.
"When you have people physical disabilities, they make accommodations," Bonn said. "It's just a different situation for [people with autism]. They have trouble socializing and making friends and knowing what the appropriate thing to do is. Things we take for granted, they have to be taught."
At the small Texas university where Dunn works, students created a peer mentor program that shepherded students with autism into the rhythms of college life.Many needed a social navigator to help them understand social situations or a mentor to help them manage time effectively.
Because autism is a "spectrum disorder" that affects people differently and to varying degrees, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. For a student with Asperger's syndrome, Dunn said, a timer helped her focus when she got too absorbed in tasks and needed to know when to stop.
When Magro arrived at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, he found a campus that lacked services and accommodations for students like himself. So he started a student organization for those with disabilities to raise awareness and foster a sense of community.
In the process, he learned how to advocate for himself and tell people what he needed.
Although he graduated earlier this year, Magro is returning to Seton Hall to pursue a masters degree in strategic communication.
"You have to be vulnerable," he said. "Autism doesn't define me — I define autism."
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