The Spectrum Support Pilot
This past summer a group of faculty and staff gathered from across the institute and formed the Asperger’s Task Force. This is designed to start to indentify and support the unique needs of students at RIT who have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or Asperger’s Syndrome. This group went on to create and implement the Spectrum Support Pilot.
The Spectrum Support Pilot consists mainly of the use of both a Peer Coach and a Case Manager. The peer coaching opportunity was designed to assist students with ASD in making a successful transition to the RIT college environment. This initiative is being offered in partnership with the RIT School Psychology program. Six second year students from the program are participating in the Pilot: Karen Adams, Erin Brown, Alyssa Castronova, Kristin Dehmler, Meghan Frazee, and Kelly Eastman. These Peer Coaches meet with the students in the Support Pilot weekly. Initially, all the students in the Support Pilot were administered a Career Assessment Battery compiled by Dr. Scott P. Merydith, Chair of the School Psychology Program. From this, a report was generated to present to the students in the Support Pilot to facilitate their understanding of their own typical personality traits, career interests, career decisiveness, work values, and free time activities. A wide variety of topics were discussed throughout these weekly meetings aimed at facilitating the student’s transition from high school into college: Making friends, talking to strangers, appropriate participation during class, punctual attendance, proper hygiene, and communication home were all vital topics to address. Furthermore, weekly meetings involving all the second year students, as well as faculty from the institute were implemented. This allowed for a support network to develop for the school psychology students as peer coaches. Additionally a special topics course was developed so that the school psychology students who served as peer coaches could enroll, receive credit, and be provided with supervision. Supervision was provided by Dr. Scott P. Merydith and the Case Manager.
Students enrolled in the Support Pilot are also assigned a Case Manager. This individual meets with the students for an initial intake to establish a relationship with the student and get a sense of their needs for academic support and then on an as needed basis. Throughout the quarter, the Case Manager gathers input on the student’s progress based on mid-quarter grade reports, feedback from academic advisors, and others providing direct support to the student.
Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders often need support and encouragement in building their social interaction skills and comfort level with faculty, staff, and other students. Through the program, a variety of events exist for students and faculty to help them get to know one another in a social setting. The students had the opportunity to meet and learn how to take the bus to and from campus, go out for dinner, go to the mall, and participate in a game night on RIT’s campus with faculty.
This program provides a unique opportunity for students enrolled in the school psychology program at RIT to be involved with undergraduates who may struggle with transitioning from high school to college. It is a valuable experience to learn more about Asperger’s Disorder and what academic and social issues students diagnosed on the spectrum encounter when they leave high school.
From left to right: Dr. Scott P. Merydith, Chair of the Department of School Psychology, Susan Ackerman, Disability Services Coordinator, Erin Brown, Sara E. Bayerl, Academic Intervention and Mentoring Program Learning Assistant, Meghan Frazee, Kelly Eastman, Kristin Dehlmer, Karen Adams, and Alyssa Castronova