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Austin Peay State University Full Spectrum Learning program helps Autism Spectrum Students succeed

 

Austin Peay State University (APSU)

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – Chloe Sybert didn’t want help. She’d heard about the new Full Spectrum Learning (FSL) pilot program at Austin Peay State University (APSU), which assisted students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, but she hesitated filling out the program’s application.

APSU's Marea Blake, senior biology and social work major, became a mentor to support students with autism.

APSU’s Marea Blake, senior biology and social work major, became a mentor to support students with autism.

“Originally, my mom bribed me to do it,” she said. “I didn’t want anything to label me as autistic because I had a pride problem. I wanted to be able to do college without any extra help, but then I realized that having extra help, there isn’t anything wrong with that. And I met friends and realized it wasn’t that bad at all.”

Three years later, Sybert is an APSU sociology major earning straight As each semester, and the pilot program she joined is now a full center within the Austin Peay State University’s Eriksson College of Education.

“We help students on the autism spectrum be successful in college,” Emmanuel Mejeun, FSL director, said. “It’s purely academic. We offer them individual peer tutoring, peer mentoring to help with socialization, faculty mentoring to help with career development. We monitor study hours. We meet at least twice a week, to see how they’re going.

Austin Peay State University Full Spectrum Learning program mentors Lillan Pllard and Diamond Brant want their mentees to "be their best selves."

Austin Peay State University Full Spectrum Learning program mentors Lillan Pllard and Diamond Brant want their mentees to “be their best selves.”

“And we offer a required course one hour a week every semester in which students learn academic responsibility, personal organization preferences, interpersonal communication, mastering executive functioning skills and professional development. During the final year, the course focus is on career readiness and a final job shadow assignment.”

While in high school, students diagnosed with autism follow an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to help them succeed. At the college level, no such plan exists.

“When they get into college, they have no structure,” Mejeun said. “FSL provides that structure, but only on the academic side of it. In addition to the FSL services, we work closely with Jamie McCrary, director of the Office of Disability Services, to ensure that FSL students receive the proper accommodations to be successful.”

Dr. Gina Grogan, APSU associate professor of education, first noticed this discrepancy between high school and college programs back in 2013. Two years later, she developed a campus focus group to study how the University could better support students with autism.

“We received input from so many different people, including professors, students with and without autism, APSU staff and even community members as we tried to see what the University needed,” she said in 2015.

That fall, the pilot program was launched, and Grogan eventually hired graduate assistants to help oversee FSL. Mejeun was one of the graduate assistants. Now, as the program’s director, he’s working to expand the number of participants and FSL student mentors and tutors.

“There are benefits for the peer mentors, too,” he said. “Peer mentors can encounter different situations that call for compassion, decision-making and good listening skills. These transferrable skills can be used in any aspects of life, including any career path as mentors interact with classmates and co-workers.”

Diamond Brant, a senior social work major with a minor in family studies, became a mentor a few years ago to help out and get more involved in campus. It’s been one of the more worthwhile experiences she’s had at Austin Peay.

“With my student, I’ve seen them grow from being super shy to actually talking to people,” she said. “And so that makes me feel really confident in myself also because I’ve actually helped somebody get out of their little shell. That’s what I really want to do – help people grow and be their best selves.”

Information on the program, such as admission requirements, services and resources, is available online at www.apsu.edu/full-spectrum-learning


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