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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Program for Autistic Students at the University of Idaho

At the Moscow-Pulman Daily News, Lex Van Horn reports on a program for autistic students at the University of Idaho:
Raven Scholars Project supports students as they transition from the distractions of typical high-school classrooms to learning in a more supportive setting.

“There is that place where I can go and everybody knows I’m on the autism spectrum,” Program Coordinator Leslie Gwartney said. “I don’t have to explain myself. I don’t have to worry about if I’m stimming (self-stimulation behavior) or if I’m having a bad day or if I want to talk about my special interest. People are going to understand.”

The UI Raven Scholars Program, one of several UI programs supporting these students, helps 30 students with ASD, diagnosed or undiagnosed, per semester, Gwartney said. Students regularly talk with her about their academic work, time management, self-care and social skills. These meetings are meant to become shorter and less frequent because Raven Scholars is a program helping high-school students transition into college life.

The change to online learning because of COVID-19 has challenged students with ASD. Some instructors have expected students to fill in gaps, but ambiguous assignments can be challenging for students with ASD, Gwartney said. Assignments that place equal weight on small portions of work instead of heavily weighting a final project can also be difficult. Students may feel like it’s busywork and avoid it.

Other students have struggled more with transitioning their social lives online. Normally, students have access to the Raven Room, a large, open space where students can work, eat, relax or chat with each other. Puzzles, board games and books are organized on shelves around the room while sensory tools and fidget toys lay on a counter near the common table. Two large windows oversee neighboring halls and their courtyards.