Attending university can be one of the most daunting experiences for young people living in the United States. From either the societal pressure to make something of yourself or the great financial burden of education, a young adult venturing out on their own might find themselves overwhelmed by the experience. For a neurotypical person, these challenges are difficult, but most of our lives up to this point have prepared us for such things. Whether weighed down by issues of poverty, sexism, or racial tension, many people outside the “norm” find that the path set forth seems unfair. Furthermore, just as not every building has an elevator or an access ramp for people unable to walk, those institutions do not always have the facilities necessary to accommodate the needs of those whose disabilities are not visible or readily understood.
Recently, Eastern University was named the 21st best college for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by College Choice, an organization that ranks colleges by a variety of metrics. Many students at Eastern University may be unaware, but the university offers an extensive college success program (CSP) for students on the spectrum, and employs both peer mentors and graduate mentors to assist in the daily life of those students. Additionally, those students’ privacy is of the utmost importance to the university.
As an RA who regularly interacts with students in the program, I was able to sit down with a few of those students to get a firsthand perspective on how the program has impacted them, and what exactly CSP looks like.
A senior student, and former member of the program helped shed some light on the subject. He explained, “The CSP is a tool that helps people who need to adjust to campus life. If they need social help with focusing on studying, and if they feel isolated they are in a program with people like them.” Thinking back to the early program his freshman year, the senior remembered how the CSP was “a great way for people who don’t think in a neurotypical fashion to better adjust.” When asked about how the program specifically helps its members, he revealed how “projects aren’t made different, but accommodations have been made for deadlines. The expectations are not lowered, the people in CSP are given the tools they need to fulfill the expectations of their classes.”
A freshman, new to the program told the paper “the main takeaway is that I’ve had a really positive experience. They have a skills group once a week that helps me with social skills and a study session every week which is very useful. Additionally, I meet with Dr. Thompson who helps me stay on track with assignments and deadlines.” The freshman talked at length about how the program has made it “easy to make friends,” and that overall it makes him “feel happy and at ease.” “I am more comfortable at college because of it.”
The senior, in his closing remarks concluded, “When I was a part of the program freshman year, the social aspect of college was so hard, which made it difficult to do well in school. The program made sure I could get some extensions and was required to meet with a counselor once a week. If nothing else, that was very centering and grounding. The atmosphere of the program is very welcoming. For anyone who is considering Eastern University in the future and is thinking about the CSP, they should have no fear, because they won’t be thought of as less and will be given the best chance to do the best they can at Eastern University.”
The college success program represents the best of what Eastern University can be. We don’t try to be like everybody else, but instead we offer a unique experience that affirms the dignity and value of all people, no matter their circumstance.