Board of Governors considering new regulations
As a counselor at Saddleback College, Zina Boratynec noticed such a significant increase in students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) on campus that she spent a year’s sabbatical focused on how faculty can prepare for the challenges they bring to the classroom.
Wave of students
By now, many faculty are acquainted with Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication and an intense development of special interests. Only in recent years has Asperger’s been considered “on the autism spectrum” and the wave of students receiving special services in K-12 are now making their way to higher education.
“No two students on the spectrum are alike,” Boratynec said. “They have the intellectual capacity to succeed but struggle with social and self-regulatory skills like group work, meeting timelines, self-advocacy skills, and monitoring behavior.”
Language skills can also be problematic. Literal interpretation of words makes understanding a syllabus or lecture a challenge, according to Boratynec. Further, many students may struggle with articulating themselves in writing. They can be good at the technical aspects of grammar and punctuation but have problems generating ideas, organizing their thoughts and expressing themselves.
“You can have some students that dominate conversations and some who don’t participate at all,” she said.
New funding formula
Recognizing the growth in numbers of students, the Board of Governors for California’s Community Colleges is considering a new Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS) funding formula that would better provide for the need of students.
While these students don’t have Individualized Educational Plans as they do in grades K-12, colleges must insure that they have equal access to learning environments. Yet, since students are not required to disclose their disabilities, counselors like Boratynec can only help if they request services.
“Once they self-identify, I might meet with them weekly or bi-weekly to address classroom issues and develop strategies,” she said. “I worked with an instructor that said he had a student who raised his hand every two minutes to ask a question. We met with the student to come up with an approach where we got him to ask just one question and write down the rest to discuss with the instructor after class. That way both the instructor and student were able to get their needs met.”
On another occasion, she received a call from a faculty member who was concerned about a student who kept falling asleep in class. When Boratynec talked with the student she found that he had sensory sensitivity and needed to put his head on the desk to keep the lights and classmates from distracting him.
Boratynec strongly advocates that DSPS provide information to the instructional side of the campus regarding ASD. While disability-related accommodations and concerns are addressed by the DSPS office, instructional faculty play a key role in a student’s success.
Student mentors needed
In addition to support and social groups for students with ASD, she would like to see a student mentor program develop since research shows that students on the spectrum benefit when typical behavior is modeled. And, because this student population often comes with strong parental advocates, Boratynec says it is also important to establish a trusting and cooperative relationship with parents as students with ASD transition to higher education.
“Many are highly intelligent and very bright,” Boratynec said. “It’s a matter of helping them flourish in this environment.”
For more information about how faculty can support students with ASD, read Boratynec’s sabbatical report at www.saddleback.edu/dsps.