Day 4 of the National Autism Conference at Penn State

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kyle Casey National Autism Conference attendees enjoy a lunch break outside the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. For conference details, click on the image above.National Autism Conference attendees enjoy a lunch break outside the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. For conference details, click on the image above.

Staff members and interns from Penn State Outreach are blogging from the National Autism Conference at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel throughout the week. The conference, which averages about 2,500 participants, features experts in autism, educators, autism advocates, people with autism and their families. In this summary of conference sessions, Erin Rowley, a senior majoring in journalism and history, blogs about issues that college students with Asperger’s Syndrome face, and Kyle Casey, a senior majoring in public relations, blogs about support systems at home and school. Both are interns with Penn State Outreach.

By Erin Rowley

College is not the time for young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome to learn how to do laundry or how to wake up without a parent telling them to do so.

That’s one of the conclusions Janet Graetz offered during her presentation on Thursday (Aug. 5), called “Creating a Successful College Experience.”

Graetz, an associate professor in the department of human development and child studies at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., led a study that observed 19 Oakland University students with Asperger’s over the course of a year.

She found that students with Asperger’s, which is an autism spectrum disorder characterized by severe trouble with social situations, suffered from elevated stress levels, difficulty relaxing and sleeping and little social interaction. The students also reported feeling that their lives were out of their own control.

Her university offers many resources for students with Asperger’s, such as counseling, a peer program and a writing center, but she found that many students were not utilizing them and were not getting involved with other activities on campus.

“We want them in our universities. We want them in our communities,” she said. “We want them to go to a basketball game, go to the recreation center, attend lectures. We’ve been addressing this, but we need to do more.”

One barrier to success in college, Graetz said, is that some parents and teachers coddle young adults with Asperger’s too much, making it difficult for them to transition to the independence that college provides.

Anyone who’s walked down College Avenue, which borders Penn State’s University Park campus, can see what Graetz means when she points out that college communities are filled with all sorts of characters. That makes college, with the right support in place, a good fit for people with Asperger’s. Their quirkiness, she said, is more likely to be embraced at college than it was in grade school.

About 50 people attended the session, and many of them were parents of children with Asperger’s.

Wendy Bonn, 49, of Mohnton, Pa., came to the session hoping to pick up some tips. She has two children on the autism spectrum. Her son, Tyler, will enter college this fall to study wildlife conservation, and she wants to be as prepared as possible to help him deal with any difficulties he faces.

“He doesn’t need academic support; it’s much more social support that he needs,” she said. “I want to know what I can do to support him with that.”

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