Trips to the movies, shopping, and dinner may not sound likecomponents of a typical college resource program; however, a new initiative atthe MSU RCPD challenges norms in order to create innovative solutions forstudents with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
According to the Center for Disease Control's 2010 report, approximatelyone in 110 Americans, or 730,000 between the ages of zero and 21 experience anASD. Michael Hudson, RCPD Director, remarks, \Today, more than 25 MSU students withASDs identify with the RCPD and struggle to create meaningful relationships.Without effective networking capabilities, many of them will find themselves ata competitive disadvantage as they graduate and seek employment." A new RCPD partnership, the BuildingOpportunity for Networking and Discovery (BOND) program seeks to challenge andovercome this obstacle for MSU students. The BONDprogram encourages students to meet people with similar challenges. Participantsidentify multiple reasons for sustained involvement as they build social andcoping skills, practice emotional control, and increase self-esteem. Inthe words of a founding student, "I am able to meet people I wouldn't otherwisehave met. Even without knowing the specifics of each other's disabilities weall go into the situation with the knowledge that there is a mutual respect foreach other's similarities and differences. It is difficult for me to make andmaintain eye contact, yet everyone that attends the outings has come out to dotheir best in making connections if not friendships. I value the connectionsthat I have made from these outings."
A student-created vision statementempowers students as they not only participate, but also assist in thedevelopment of a program that will be of the utmost benefit. Continuedparticipant feedback is essential in the ongoing development and improvement ofthis exciting new program," said Renee Craig, RCPD graduate assistant and BONDprogram co-facilitator. As a cornerstone of the program, social outings andworkshops create opportunities for connecting with others who share similarexperiences and challenges in a safe and respectful environment.
Julie Wolf, a grandparent of a childwith autism, saw potential in the program and made a personal investment at MSU.The newly funded startup program and Wolf's passion for promoting the abilitiesof youth with autism has given students at MSU the chance to connect with oneanother, grow both personally and as a unit, and make continued contributionsto MSU and the Autism community.
In honor of those like her grandson Connor, Wolf helped organize"Connor's Friends," - a night for children and their families in the ASD spectrumat the Grand Rapids Children's Museum. That event incorporates uniqueaccommodations for younger people with autism. As they are often sensitive toexternal stimuli, the children's museum uses tactile friendly materials toenhance sensory integration and create a more comforting environment.
Seeking to strengthen resources for college studentsstruggling with ASDs, Wolf reached out to the MSU RCPD. "For individuals withautism who go to college... these support programs are so important," she said. TheBOND initiative is special because "it not only puts an emphasis on socialthings, but also learning styles and academic success," said Wolf.
Another benefit comes from the mentoring program, which wasestablished to emphasize a participant-driven approach. The mentoring component of the BOND program gives participants theopportunity to work on individualized goals with a peer that understands theirunique strengths and challenges. Students are encouraged to take aleadership role and initiate additional activities, said Virginia Rutan, RCPD's Cognitive Disabilities Specialist.
In the future, Rutan would like to see the BOND programevolve into an established seminar curriculum similar to the existing RCPD STATE program, which provides learning disability-specificinstructional, tutorial, and peer-mentoring components. With an extensivevision for further success and community partnerships, a bright future liesahead for ASD resources at MSU.