ASD in the University: Syracuse University’s ODS Agenda

a raised view of the campus

While the transition to a different life at college might be stressful, it can be exponentially more stressful for those who function differently than their neurotypical peers. Autistic students often face social and academic challenges that would not even cross a neurotypical student’s mind. Such challenges for these neurodiverse students include being independent, and planning for their daily routine or, in many cases, their future. In some instances, a university can offer programs to help students acclimate and thrive in their new environment, some programs held in very high regards being provided by Syracuse University.

The mission statement for the Office of Disability Services at Syracuse demonstrates an important concept in the neurodiversity movement: it is not that those with neurological differences are a problem, but that these individuals simply need accommodation so they may reach their full potential. With this mission in mind, the Office of Disability Services provides an abundance of options and solutions to the problems that a neurodiverse person could encounter in their transition and in their daily life. One of the most important services for incoming students provided in conjunction with the Office is SummerStart.

SummerStart is an orientation program that aids disabled students, named “McLane Scholars,” in the transition from high school to university. Like other universities, this program is intended to reduce the stress and anxiety of moving onto a campus, and to assure the scholars that their needs will be met. While similar programs can be found on other campuses, one major difference between this program and others is the one credit seminar given to the students, describing the importance of disability in an effort to demonstrate reduced stigma and increase confidence. For autistic individuals, a program like SummerStart is extremely beneficial to appease their anxiety and to prepare them in a very positive manner.

Executive director Wendy Harbour works with neurodiverse individuals to further the benefits of programs offered at Syracuse

Academic programs provided by Syracuse include specialized tutors, a program called “TimePlus” designed specifically to train and enhance executive function skills, and many more. Outside of the academic realm, disabled students will find support and acceptance from the Disability Cultural Center, an entire center dedicated to increasing acceptance and educating the community about disability. The center holds events and works in conjunction with other programs to create a seamless incorporation of disabled individuals and their peers, creating an even more welcoming environment for incoming students. With both the social and academic aspects of the Office of Disability Services providing a support system for autistic and other neurodiverse individuals, the anxiety and fear associated with the transition may be greatly diminished.

As of today, William & Mary lacks the structured programs that the Office of Disability Services and the Disability Cultural Center are able to provide for their students, hopefully in the future the college can offer a similar group of support centers for their neurodiverse students.




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  1. ksbristol says:

    I think this program sounds really beneficial and impactful. While William and Mary does have a summer program to help prepare neurodiverse students for college, it does not offer the seminar about neurodiversity, which sounds incredibly important and I hope is something that William and Mary considers adding to their curriculum soon. It’s not only important to prepare neurodiverse students to function in this environment, but also to remind them that they are not a burden to campus, they are a major part of our community and deserve to feel confident on campus. The Disability Cultural Center at Syracuse sounds like it works to do just that and is another thing that I think William and Mary should try and emulate. Overall, this is a great post that highlights the benefits and unique aspects of Syracuse’s neurodiversity initiative.

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