Amplifying a student’s voice

April is known as Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month nationally. The United Nations has also brought international attention to autism by observing World Autism Awareness Day on April 2. At LHU, I recently talked with “K,” an LHU student with autism willing to share her experiences to inform the campus community about autism. When I asked her what she wanted students, faculty, and staff at LHU to know about being a college student with autism, she said, “(college]) students, like people in general on the autism spectrum, are facing enough stigma and discrimination as it is, so the best thing colleges can do is make them feel as welcome as possible.”

The College Autism Network (CAN), which provides information, advocacy, and resources to college students and families (www.collegeautismnetwork.org), noted that autistic students are a part of the student body at almost every college or university. CAN defines “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a set of behaviors associated with specific differences in how one’s brain perceives and processes environmental input. It is a ‘spectrum condition’ that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.” In K’s words, “no one should be bullied for having differences.” She explained that her perspective comes from her own experiences in elementary and high school where she felt misunderstood and mistreated by both staff and other students because of her developmental disability.

She has had a much more positive experience since becoming an LHU student, because of the more flexible environment. She has also begun to use accommodations, which work more effectively for her learning process, such as audio versions of textbooks. K worked with the LHU Office of Disability Services for Students (ODSS) to become aware of and implement this accommodation. K believes that raising awareness within the campus community is necessary to increase understanding of autism, and to educate others about how to be inclusive of everyone’s differences and provide effective instruction, mentoring, and support to autistic students. This is the reason K believes it is important for LHU to observe Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month. Some autism advocacy organizations, including CAN, have expressed a desire to push beyond awareness, focusing on inclusion and acceptance of autistic individuals within their communities. K hopes for this as well. She encouraged other students to use support available to them and recognize that their differences are a positive aspect of themselves they can “use to their advantage.”

For support and resource information, LHU students may contact ODSS at disability–services@lockhaven.edu or call 570-484-2665. Online, the Autistic Student Self-Advocacy Network is a resource created by autistic students for autistic students, which can be found at https://autisticadvocacy.org/. For K-12 educators or others wishing to gain more education about autism, LHU also offers graduate-level courses on autism leading to the 12-credit Autism Endorsement. More information can be found at https://www.lockhaven.edu/specialeducation/autismendorsement.html


Director of the Lock Haven University Office of Disability Services for Students


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