Asperger's initiative continues to grow

Mercyhurst College is taking steps to fulfill the needs and enhance the success of those who are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

According to the Learning Differences’ website, approximately one in 100 people applying for college will be diagnosed with ASD.

Due to a growing number of college students who have AS/ASD and the lack of academic programs addressing this disorder, Mercyhurst College administration made the decision to develop support services that will allow for success at school.

The Learning Differences Program has been helping students for more than 20 years, and in 2008 it launched the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM).

Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst received a federal grant for $10,000 from the Verizon Foundation for Technology on Jan. 18. The check was presented to Mercyhurst College President Thomas Gamble, Ph.D., and Learning Differences Director Dianne Rogers by William Carnahan, vice president of external affairs, Midwest Division.

“We are very excited about the opportunities and training this will provide for our students living with Asperger’s Syndrome,” AIM coordinator Brad McGarry said. “This grant brings a whole new dimension to our program and what we can accomplish.”

The grant will be used for equipment that will benefit students with social skills training, time management and executive functioning. The equipment will include iPads and other applications geared toward this purpose.

Working on this program are Rogers, McGarry, and adviser Kenneth Schiff, Ph.D., as well as others within the Learning Differences Program.

Schiff explained that Asperger‘s Syndrome is considered to be “high-functioning autism.”

Those with Asperger’s Syndrome are “particularly at risk in the school setting, not because of a lack of academic or even verbal skills, but because of difficulty in negotiating the complex social world of the university,” said Schiff.

“In fact, many of the students who fit this profile are especially gifted in certain academic areas and could, therefore, bring great honor to their schools and benefit to the larger community, but because of their lack of social skills, they require unique support services in order to succeed.”

AIM focuses on social skills as well as academics to ensure AS/ASD students have all of the right tools in order to succeed in school.

The Asperger Support Planning Committee worked for a few years on ways to create a program that will best help students at Mercyhurst.

Schiff has played an important role in the development of this program.

“I initially proposed, designed and directed the planning of the program,” he said.

As the adviser, Schiff’s job is not only to help with hiring and other initiatives, but to be a faculty advocate as well. If any trouble occurs in the classes, Schiff helps solve these problems.

Mercyhurst’s AIM program has also been displayed internationally through an article Schiff wrote for the January-February 2012 issue of “Autism Asperger’s Digest.”

To learn more about the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst, go here.