In spring 2016, the Division of Student Life and University College, through sponsorship by Dean Redington and Associate Dean Beckett, charged a task force with looking more closely at autistic and neurodiverse students on campus as a result of trends witnessed by the Early Intervention Team (EIT). EIT received increased numbers of student referrals that seemed to be more aligned with learning differences, accommodations requests, and training than complex social, emotional, behavioral concerns the team often addressed. The taskforce researched, reviewed, and made recommendations regarding next steps, including the formation of a campus Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Committee.
The ASD Committee, co-chaired by Angie Reams and Mirra Anson through EIT, began in fall 2016 by determining priorities and establishing subcommittees focused on faculty/staff training, curriculum and course development, and website, marketing, and communication. The ASD Committee is comprised of members from faculty roles, staff roles, Student Disability Services, Academic Advising, Belin Blank Honors and affiliated programs, academic colleges, Orientation and OnIowa!, University Counseling Service, community members, and parents of current college students or autistic/neurodiverse students.
A first year seminar course, Finding Your Comfort Zone: Keys to Student Success, was developed and has been successfully implemented since spring 2017. The course is no longer a first year seminar, but an established course for the Certificate in Disability Studies. It also provides a practicum opportunity where graduate students are eligible to work in a mentoring capacity with a student who requests additional coaching or mentoring through Student Disability Services. The curriculum and course development subcommittee created content to develop online faculty training modules. The modules, created by an autistic graduate student, were revised and updated by the communications and website committee to post on the website along with other content that is intentional in communicating what the University of Iowa has to offer, or not, to students, families, staff/faculty, and friends/allies. The new website, including the faculty/staff training modules, was recently made available online and is being promoted by academic advisors, Student Disability Services staff members, and other offices during orientation and within colleges. The website and training modules can be found here.
We continue to hold conversations with Orientation Services and On Iowa! staff members regarding options for flexibility, alternative formats, and universal design for certain aspects of the program, much of which they already provide in various ways. We are intentional in how we communicate about the options and supports available for students and realistic in what is feasible currently with our resources. We strive to find ways to incorporate additional training and universal design throughout all of our university’s programs, services, and courses in order to benefit and support all in the environment. The committee’s priorities for 2019-2020 include research and assessment and increasing individual student support options and services. We are excited for the changes that have been made thus far and look forward to the continued work to support student success at Iowa.