“Autism is part of who I am.” – Temple Grandin
More and more higher education institutions across the U.S. are seeing an increased enrollment of students with Autism Spectrum disorders. While many colleges and universities are finding that they are unprepared to serve these students (both through faculty and staff training and student support services), Texas Tech University is not in that category. The TECHniques Center in particular serves students on the Autism Spectrum, and we constantly seek opportunities to expand our own knowledge and understanding of these students’ needs through training and conference attendance.
Last November, staff from the TECHniques Center and Student Disability Services attended the National Autism Conference in St. Pete Beach, Florida. This conference was unique in that attendees included the tight community of parents and family members with Autism Spectrum disorders; special education teachers; health care providers; public educators; and even staff from Autism Spectrum treatment programs. We were the only university present at the conference, and this gave us a unique opportunity to learn how Autism Spectrum disorders affect individuals and their families at all ages.
We attended workshops on how Autism Spectrum disorders affect learning and health, and we were particularly thrilled to get to hear Temple Grandin speak about her experiences growing up and the best practices she recommends to help youth with Autism Spectrum disorders develop into successful, happy, employed adults. Her speech was incredibly motivating and inspiring, and we bought lots of her books after she spoke!
We also had the opportunity to hear presentations by parents with children with Autism Spectrum disorders and how they learned to connect, teach, and grow through their children’s unique perspective on the world, including the founder of the famous Autism Treatment Center of America: Son-Rise Program. All of this information helped us better understand not only the personal histories that many of our students on the Autism Spectrum bring with them into higher education, but also how their struggles have impacted their families and their belief in their own success. This empathy helps us better understand how to communicate with and serve this unique population and reinforces what we’ve always known: the students we serve on the Autism Spectrum are some of the hardest working, most brilliant students we have the privilege to know!
This conference also confirmed our belief that the TECHniques Center and Student Disability Services are ahead of the curve in terms of the support that we can offer students on the Autism Spectrum. No other university provides the type of programs and individualized support that we do, and we are very proud of this!
Of course, the beautiful beaches of St. Pete provided the perfect backdrop for us to walk and discuss what we’d learned. This is definitely a conference that we would like to attend again, as we think that a presentation on how these students can be supported in higher education would be a perfect fit to the conference’s agenda. We hope to return next year to do exactly that!