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OU President Duane Nellis speaks during the first Student Senate meeting of the year on Aug. 30, 2017. (FILE)

Student Senate helps create new autism checklist

Correction appended.

Ohio University students on the autism spectrum have new support options thanks to a new “autism checklist.”

The checklist passed by Student Senate encourages Ohio University faculty and staff to better identify and assist students with an autism spectrum disorder because students must self-identify to professors if they choose.

“The checklist are essentially signs so anyone, from a novice to an expert, can identify characteristics of autism spectrum disorders and implement strategies to help students be successful,” Jordyn Zimmerman, the primary sponsor of the bill, said. 

Student Accessibility Services, or SAS, is in its second year of a coaching program for students on the autism spectrum. There are four students in the program this semester.

“While students on the autism spectrum are not a huge percentage of our student population, 50 percent of those students on campus would not come back for their second year at Ohio University,” Assistant Dean of Student Accessibility Carey Busch said at the January Board of Trustees meeting.  

In the coaching program, students are paired with upperclassmen who work with them each week. 

Because SAS never tells faculty members whether a student has a disability, there is no formal faculty component of the program.

“We’ve just had faculty reach out after a student has disclosed that they’re connected with our office. They might reach out for some strategies or some thoughts to help a student in their class,” Christina Jenkins, Student Accessibility Services program coordinator, said. 

Last semester, SAS held a faculty series to help professors working with individuals on the autism spectrum.

“(The series was) really good to help them understand some characteristics of individuals with autism, talk about strategies working with them, but it wasn’t necessarily a checklist,” Jenkins said. 

While the program has not yet done a “huge marketing push,” SAS has been reaching out to potential and current students at resource and admissions fairs.

“Students are looking for programs like this when they’re looking at schools. They’re looking for support beyond just typical accommodations,” Jenkins said. “I guess that’s kind of how we see it growing and expanding, is just by making it available.”

The program focuses on a number of competency areas: self advocacy, resiliency, time management, organization, connecting to extracurricular activities and technology.

“The coaching program really focuses on the unique needs of each student, what are their concerns, what are their goals, what is interfering with their experience at Ohio University,” Busch said.

All five of students who participated in the program came back for their second year at OU, Busch said at the January Board of Trustees meeting.

“It was really helpful to have someone (program participants) could go to if they had a question or they weren’t sure where to access resources and things like that, just kind of navigate college life,” Jenkins said. 

Although the checklist is not connected to the coaching program, it is a part of a larger effort to help students with autism spectrum disorders.

“Partnership would be ideal as there is expansion for students and general training for employees,” Zimmerman said. “Interweaving the ideas could be powerful.” 

Both the Division of Student Affairs and the University College gave input to Student Senate for the checklist. The bill passed and was sent out to groups on campus, including academic deans.

“(The checklist) takes into consideration that it’s a very heterogeneous population of students,” Zimmerman said. “While the checklists are specifically designed to assist students with autism spectrum disorders, these strategies can actually be universally applied to improve the success of all students.”


Correction: A previous version of this report misstated who worked on the checklist and when it passed. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.

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