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Video Increases Awareness of Autism Spectrum in College Students

Autism Spectrum Awareness

Video gives insight into key points faculty and staff can use when working with students who are on the spectrum.

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Navigating the path to getting a degree may be a struggle for the average student, but the hurdles can become exponentially more difficult for those with a neurodevelopmental disorder that has no obvious physical traits.

“Some people know a lot about autism, a few know a little about autism, most people know very little about autism,” says Gwen Mitchell, clinical assistant professor with the College of Education and Director of Clinical Services at the Center on Disabilities and Human Development.

Mitchell, whose research focuses on autism spectrum disorder, stated that institutions of higher learning worldwide are experiencing the first large wave of students entering the classroom who are on the autism spectrum as the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder has been increasing since late 1980s.

Working with students who are on the autism spectrum, it was increasingly apparent to Mitchell that there is a need to increase faculty and staff’s understanding of the challenges these students face. Collaborating researchers from neighboring states who participated the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disorders (LEND) training program, Mitchell’s team solicited survey data from faculty and staff at the University of Idaho, Boise State University, University of Montana, University of Utah, Utah State University, Minot State University and Utah Valley University.

From the 1,000 usable responses they received, the team extracted key points to create a storyboard written by Mitchell, and created and narrated by Shawn Wright (also from the CDHD). Written from the perspective of a hypothetical student who is on the autism spectrum, the storyboard highlights some of the myths about autism, strengths and weakness faculty and staff may not be aware of, while providing valuable information about how best to serve students, as well as highlighting the rights of people with a disability.

“I want to increase understanding of the challenges people on the spectrum face on a daily basis,” she said.

Among key points she hopes faculty and staff can put into practices when working with students who are on the spectrum are:

  • Allow increased time for the student to process information
  • Understand that initiating a conversation or an assignment can be challenging
  • Oral instructions often are missed, as they can be difficult to generalize and process. Written instructions are key in communication
  • Consistency in classroom routines work best, abrupt change is difficult to assimilate
  • Social and emotional reciprocity in relationships can be extremely challenging

Written by Allison Stormo, College of Education


Department of Curriculum and Instruction

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