Monday, November 06, 2006

Asperger Article in NY Times

The New York Times publishes an article on Asperger's [registration required - available for only a limited time for free]. The article appears in the Education section and covers efforts by various colleges to accomodate the needs of students with Asperger's. It's fascinating reading.
Here are some notable excerpts:

"Unable to navigate social intricacies, many such students once decided to forego college; or, isolated and depressed, they left before graduating. They bring a host of tricky issues to classrooms, dorms and the dating scene. “I can’t emphasize how difficult college is for these kids,” says Dania Jekel , executive director of the Asperger’s Association of New England. “Many are going to college and they really aren’t ready. We’ve had cases where a parent hasn’t known for an entire semester that the kid hasn’t attended class and is flunking every class.”

"Colleges are devising programs that try to integrate students on the spectrum into the academic and social fabric of the campus. The Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, in a joint program with a state agency and a local school, has hired a special-education teacher to help students organize their time and assignments and improve the skills that are second nature to most, like how much space goes between two people in a conversation or how to make gentle eye contact.
At Keene State College, in New Hampshire, fellow students act as “social navigators.” Their assignment: change their charges’ “outsider” status by introducing them to their friends. The mentors get $10 an hour (and sometimes course credit in psychology) by helping students on the spectrum make small talk, date and get consent at every level of romantic advancement."

At Marshall University, the West Virginia Autism Training Center operates a program in which graduate students work daily with students with Asperger’s, reviewing assignments, helping with time management and teaching classroom etiquette. They take the students on field trips to Wal-Mart, to restaurants and to the movie theater to let them practice social skills. Bottom line for parents: $6,200 a year."

[Lisa] King [a disability specialist at the University of Minnesota] sees these interventions as “the minimum that we can do” for academically qualified students. Musing, she takes it a step further: “We would provide an interpreter to a hard-of-hearing person. Why don’t we provide an interpreter for somebody with Asperger’s?” And that’s not far from what some parents are seeking. One mother wanted her son to have 24/7 access to all staff and faculty, says Barbara Roberts, manager of M.I.T.’s disability services; the request was denied. Families of more capable students hire coaches — psychologists, speech therapists, specialed teachers and graduate students — for fees ranging from $30 to $100 an hour."

"“The Asperger’s population is much bigger than we think it is,” according to Larry Powell, manager of disability services at Carnegie Mellon. “But students aren’t disclosing that. It’s kind of like, if you build it they will come. If we could put together systems that would adequately support these students, word would get around and more students would disclose it and would come. One of my issues is that I am an office of one with 264 students.”"

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