Autism. This word is pronounced more frequently these days than in the previous years. More people are getting awareness of what it is and how people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families live with this condition and under its pressure. April being the month of Autism awareness brings into the spotlight a lot of resources from different organizations and institutions that are geared towards giving a meaningful and supportive network to the people with Autism, including their families.
We chose to highlight one of the best FREE programs from the University of North Florida that has incorporated effective and inclusive principles of leadership and participation for the students with Autism. This college-based program is called THRIVE (Transition to Health, Resources, Independence, Viable Careers and Education).
These tools by Tara Rowe, THRIVE Program coordinator, will help guide students with ASD as they explore programs at colleges and universities that can help them transition to college life as well as enhance their college experience.
Did you know that 1 in 68 people have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and that it’s roughly 4.5 times more common among males than females? Did you also know that ASD is the fastest and costliest disability among disability categories?
Several universities and colleges across the country offer programs to ASD students; however, the THRIVE (Transition to Health, Resources, Independence, Viable Careers and Education) program at the University of North Florida (UNF) in Jacksonville is the only one in the country that is free of cost for students and focuses specifically on not only independent living and social skills, like most programs, but also career skill development. Here are some HOW-TOs for THRIVING on a college campus with ASD.
College students with ASD should pair up with non-ASD students to learn their way around a college campus. Each student in the THRIVE Program at UNF is paired with a mentor who can help students navigate the difficult waters of attending college, from finding where there classroom is located to the best place to study without too many distractions.
Whether it’s going to a campus basketball game with other non-ASD students or participating in game afternoons, ASD students in TRIVE are given natural opportunities to observe, practice, interact and develop critical social skills. Many students with ASD are brilliant but lack in the area of social skills. So it is important for students who are on the spectrum to develop and hone these essential life skills while in college that will take them through into adulthood and their careers. ASD students in college need learn self-advocacy, appropriate social and sexual behaviors, diversity and appropriate professional interactions, like communicating with professors, campus staff and peers.
Living on campus can be tough for anyone, but for a student with ASD, learning how to cook can be a challenge, in addition to using laundry machines and actually folding their clothes. The THRIVE program at UNF actually teaches students on the spectrum how to live independently. They and ASD students like them need to be taught stress management, time management as well as developing skills in household tasks, such as cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking and meal planning. They also need to develop economic independence are taught how to budget and handle money.
Everyone knows that the ultimate goal of going to college and earning a degree is to then pursue a career in a competitive employment field. UNF THRIVE students learn all aspects of career development skills, from building a resume to rehearsing what an in-person interview may contain. Many programs similar to THRIVE don’t offer career skills, an important component to becoming a flourishing adult beyond college. Students with ASD need to find a good fit between themselves and a career by completing an action plan and participating in career experiences, like volunteering, job shadowing, internships and employment.
THRIVE hosts an annual community learning opportunity each fall where community leaders and business professionals are invited by THRIVE students to come and learn firsthand what it is like to hire, work with, and even work for an individual with ASD. In turn, THRIVE students are given the opportunity to hear from community and business professionals what skills are needed to succeed in the workplace right here in Jacksonville!
Looking Beyond the College – Community Involvement
Not only does volunteering look great on resumes and scholarship applications, but by spending time giving back to the community, ASD students gain a sense of community belonging, while being able to learn hands-on skills needed in any setting on and off a college campus.
Support Autism Awareness –
— Celebrate Woman (@DiscoverSelf) May 16, 2017
Steven Covey says, “In order to truly learn something, teach it to someone else.” What better way for students with ASD to learn the ins and outs of attending college than by being mentored by senior, experienced ASD students. UNF THRIVE students are able to apply and hold leadership positions within the program, which includes planning events, promoting ASD awareness in the community and setting positive examples for all THRIVE students.
Research shows that the more involved a student is on campus, the more likely they are to stay in college. UNF and THRIVE are no different! Students participate in clubs, hold leadership positions in non-THRIVE related clubs, such as the Physics club, Greek life, Theater productions, and much more. It’s important for students with ASD to get involved and serve in their campus community.
Cimera, R. E., & Cowan, R. J. (2009). The costs of services and employment outcomes achieved by adults with autism in the US. Autism, 13(3), 285-302.