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Breaking Ground 98 - Exploring a Spectrum of New Opportunities

by Emmanuel Mejeun, Director of Full Spectrum Learning, and Lisa Mejeun, MA, NCC

Dr. Stephen Shore once said, “If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.” Many new studies are helping us understand more about the autism spectrum. Unfortunately, studies alone are not enough to improve life for people with autism.

As children, many with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience discrimination from the beginning of their academic and social lives. With common challenges like sensitivity to light or sound, literal interpretation of conversations, and lack of emotional control, it can be difficult for students to relate to others.

Many children diagnosed with ASD receive accommodations through the public school system to help them engage in social, emotional, and academic activities required to graduate. However, until recently, once a student with ASD graduated from high school, there were few opportunities when it came to college. Luckily, some colleges are creating programs designed to help students with ASD succeed.

Austin Peay’s Full Spectrum Learning (FSL) program is for students with ASD who want to earn a four-year college degree, transition into the workforce, and lead a positive and productive life. This includes a special weekly course for students to focus on academic, social, and career strategies. The program also has one-on-one conferences, peer and faculty mentors, tutors, and study time.

FSL offers its students other benefits. Participants learn more about the university and the Clarksville community. They enhance their motivation, self-discipline and goal setting with a peer mentor. Mentors help students grow strategies for coping in social environments, increase their social and academic confidence, and make decisions about their lives. Participants also mention that they enjoy making new friends and having fun.

Faculty mentors, chosen by the FSL student, introduce students to important connections in the local university and broader professional communities. This helps students connect to job possibilities and opportunities for leadership and engagement in professional organizations. It also helps the students to develop skills associated with career readiness, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, oral and written communication, teamwork, and professionalism and work ethic. As the faculty mentors become more familiar with the students, they offer acceptance, confirmation, admiration, and emotional support.

FSL participants can receive tutoring for any of their courses. FSL collaborates with the university’s academic support center to provide each participant with certified tutors. FSL students report that they feel at ease with a peer tutor, which allows them to stay on task and ultimately improve their academic skills. Peer tutoring also helps build personal relationships between the tutor and the student. FSL partners with the Office of Disability Services to train professors to create a more effective teaching environment, by reducing the stigma of accommodations, and making them aware of possible sensory triggers.

For some individuals with ASD, preparing for a career is the ultimate goal. For those students who have dreamt of a position requiring a four-year degree, the Full Spectrum Learning Program at Austin Peay is a wonderful opportunity. With a focus on academic strategies and success, students can gain an education and much more. The design of this program encourages these individuals to achieve their full potential.

To qualify for the Full Spectrum Learning Program, prospective students are required to submit official documentation of their ASD diagnosis; however, they do not have further GPA or testing requirements beyond the admission requirements of the Austin Peay Admission Office. For more information visit www.apsu.edu/full-spectrum-learning or call 931-221-7543.