From the list of David Taylor’s accomplishments, most people would consider him a success.
A junior majoring in music engineering at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, Taylor is a Stamps Distinguished Ensemble Scholar, which comes with a full scholarship and a coveted seat on a chamber music quintet. Graduating from American Heritage School with a 4.7 GPA, David also received an academic scholarship.
Taylor’s achievements are even more remarkable considering he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism as a child.
Yet, Taylor, 20, says he is struggling. Difficulties making friends, staying organized and approaching professors and peers have affected his academic performance and placed his academic scholarship at risk.
“For me, it’s been quite honestly a tough transitionit may have taken a bit more time than it’s taken other students to fully get acclimated at the school,” he says. “It’s been tough not letting one set of issues lead to another.”
If he could begin his freshman year over, Taylor says he would access services and accommodations available to students with learning differences. Taylor is part of a growing population of students with autism who have the grades and intellectual capability to secure acceptance into a university, but lack the social and problem-solving skills to transition to college life.
And while colleges and universities offers accommodations like extra time on tests and tutoring for students with documented learning and physical disabilities, very few offer specific programs tailored to students with autism.
“What we find is that many students need more support than the accommodations they may be entitled to at a typical university, as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” says Diane Adreon, associate director of the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD).
More than 20 colleges and universities offer programs specifically geared toward students on the autism spectrum, according to Jane Thierfeld Brown, Ph.D, co-founder of College Autism Spectrum, an organization that provides support and training for students, parents and professionals. Brown, director of student services at the University of Connecticut School of Law, is co-author of The Parent’s Guide to College for Students on the Autism Spectrum.
This year, Nova is joining that short list with the launch of Access Plus, a pilot program to provide extensive support services for students diagnosed with autism.
“Being smart is not enough,” says Susan Kabot, executive director of the Autism Institute at the university’s Mailman Segal Center. “There are many smart people with autism who struggle with social issues and job issues.”
The main components of the program include a peer mentor, a two-hour monitored study hall, on-campus housing and weekly group counseling to address such topics as organizing your course work over a semester, joining a campus club and communicating effectively with professors and classmates. A key piece of the program is the peer, a graduate student in education or psychology who will provide about 10 hours of support per week, including helping the student develop a routine, keep a check list and make sure they are taking their medication.