Indianapolis, Indiana – For many, university life is a path to independence, filled with opportunities to learn, manage time effectively, and form new friendships. However, for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the academic and social expectations of tertiary education often seem daunting, leading them to opt out of this stage of education.
Seeking to provide a supportive environment for these students, Marian University in Indiana has launched an initiative called the “Spectrum of Knights” program. This initiative provides tailored support for students with ASD, enabling them to choose any major or university-offered internship that they wish to pursue.
The Autism Coordinator at Marian University, Hannah Melton, elaborated on the program’s structure, stating that it delivers one-on-one instruction specifically designed to meet the unique needs of these students. Social engagement, academic support, and life and professional skills development,” Melton pointed out, “are often the areas that students on the spectrum may encounter difficulties with during their college studies.” She further underscored that with additional guidance, students with ASD can successfully navigate and thrive in the college environment.
The Organization for Autism Research reports that annually in the U.S., at least one-third of the 50,000 high school graduates with ASD proceed to college, yet they often experience lower employment rates. A possible solution, as suggested by the organization, is for these students to consider taking a gap year or partake in summer college-readiness programs, which could enhance their success in tertiary education.
Moreover, the National Center for Learning Disabilities reveals that concerns about societal perceptions and uncertainty about available disability-related services often deter students with ASD from pursuing higher education. Marian University is actively addressing these issues, continuously seeking ways to make its campus more welcoming for students with ASD.
Melton revealed that one such initiative under consideration is the formation of a Neurodiversity Advisory Council. “We’re hoping to have some faculty members who also identify as either autistic or neurodiverse,” she noted. Additionally, the program offers weekly peer tutors for academic support, creating a safe space for students to express their concerns and discuss their academic progress.
As the upcoming academic year commences, it will mark the first full year that Marian University has a complete group of students participating in the Spectrum of Knights program.