Like many other programs, CREATE’s summer program, run by the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst, or AIM Program, for high school students was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kolleen Sullivan, the Assistant Director and Career Path Coordinator for the AIM Program, says, “The CREATE Program is a college readiness program that exposes students who are interested in attending college to the college environment. This includes students living in a Mercyhurst residence hall, eating in the college cafeteria, enrolling in a three-credit college course, and interacting with fellow students in a variety of social activities and settings. The students also participate in the College 101 Series and the Mini Lecture Series that assist in orienting them to college offices and expose the participants to different faculty and lecture styles. The program will give both the parents and the student an assessment as to what they need to work on to be ready for college and also give them a jump start with a three-credit course that will be applied to their transcript.”
This year, the CREATE Program will be able to hold the summer program where high school students who are part of the autism spectrum can experience life at college. It will happen in July this year and will have the highest number of staff with autism to date.
CREATE is an acronym for College Readiness Experience for Autism in Teaching Excellence. The program had its beginning 12 years ago and has since grown.
Sullivan says, “The CREATE Program began as a pilot project in 2009 with seven students. The CREATE Program operates this year from Saturday, July 10 to Saturday, July 31.”
Adapting to college life can be difficult at times. This difficulty is often heightened for people with autism because of the surrounding stigma among people who are on the spectrum. The CREATE Program exists so that people with autism can enter college with the knowledge of their own abilities and strengths.
“There are a lot of different components when someone thinks about attending college to further their experience and education. It is important that the students on the autism spectrum realize their potential, understand the different components related to changing, adjusting, understanding academically how college classes operate differently, building connections, living on their own and operating a college environment and its entities. Also, transition to higher education and adult life is often difficult for individuals on the spectrum and this program assists with navigating that successfully.”
CREATE seems to have had an impact on the students who have been a part of it, since it has continued on in helping high school students for 12 years.
“It gives families hope and student’s confidence. The process can be very transformational. It gives opportunity to some students, who at one point thought college was not an option, to succeed and demonstrate their abilities,” says Sullivan.
The AIM Program was started in 2008 to support students with autism. It is crucial that these students are not stereotyped or stigmatized; that is not part of Mercyhurst’s goal. The mission of the AIM Program is “to facilitate and support the successful adjustment and progression of college students on the autism spectrum in all domains of college life, thereby broadening their vocational opportunities, and enhancing social and community engagement. The AIM program strives to accentuate each student’s abilities within the academic, social, emotional, and independent living domains, while building new skills within the domains where the student may be deficient.” As students, we all take part in this mission and it is important to remember that.