Jeremy Bauer-Wolf at Inside Higher Ed:
About a decade ago, an influx of students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder surprised officials at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Disability Services Office. The students had questions beyond the usual accommodations. They wanted to know how to deal with a snippy roommate or professor, or they just had problems communicating.
The presence of so many students with autism was unremarkable for RIT. The university is home to the well-known National Technical Institute for the Deaf, so the college was already used to teaching in different styles for students with disabilities. And students with autism are often attracted to computing and other STEM-centric programs -- RIT’s specialty.
Officials have registered 200 students with autism with disability services in the last academic year. Because students are not obligated to report their disabilities, those with autism are likely underrepresented in that figure. RIT’s total population is a little more than 19,000 students.
The institution wanted to do more for students on the spectrum, and with a two-year, $200,000 National Science Foundation grant, officials in 2008 launched a program designed specifically for them -- one that would provide students with autism with weekly coaching on all facets of college life.
Ten years later, the Spectrum Support Program has become a cornerstone at RIT, an initiative that grew organically and rapidly simply through word of mouth, said Laurie Ackles, the program’s director.