Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Marquette program seeks to improve educational outcomes and job prospects for students with autism.
Over one-third of people with autism attend college, and the number is rising.
“As a result of that, our educational system has evolved, so that in the college world we now probably have maybe 60 or 70 programs throughout the U.S. in colleges that are not just supporting people with disabilities, they are very focused on students who are on the autism spectrum,” said Marcia Scheiner, founder and president of New Yorkbased Integrate Autism Employment Advisors.
But as more and more people with autism wish to enter the workforce, the problems with employment become glaring. Only 14% of adults with autism hold a paying job in the community.
A new Marquette University program seeks to improve educational outcomes and job prospects for students with autism.
Called On Your Marq, the program seeks to match autistic students with university resources, including counseling for mental health challenges, tutoring for academic challenges, disability services for ADA accommodations and career services for helping students find employment after graduation.
“The challenge with autism is that it’s a disorder of social communication,” said Amy Van Hecke, one of the program coordinators. “So, when you have all these different support services, and you can’t make the phone call to set up the appointment, you can’t access them.”
Marquette is one of just a few universities nationwide that have a specific and hands-on program designated to help their students with autism.
Van Hecke is an associate professor of psychology and the founder of the Marquette Interdisciplinary Autism Consortium. Wendy Krueger is a clinical research professor in speech pathology and audiology and the director of clinical education.
They realized that Marquette needed an organized program to act as a gatekeeper between these services and their students with autism.
On Your Marq has a plan to help students with autism transition from high school to college to competitive employment.
There will be peer mentors to help the participants navigate social situations, and seminars that progress along with the students. The first two years, the seminars focus on the services available at the school, how to get help, and strategies for remaining organized. In junior and senior years, the seminars focus more on interviewing skills, resumebuilding and how to be successful in employment.
Krueger said finding internships for their participants is going to be key to improving the unemployment rate. College students with autism aren’t likely to take advantage of career fairs and “walk up to the tables and introduce themselves,” she said. “That would be difficult for them.”
“There’s so many individuals with autism who have that potential, and they’re just staying at home,” Krueger said.
Mark Fairbanks, executive director of Islands of Brilliance, a Milwaukee organization aimed at preparing neurodiverse candidates for competitive employment, attributes the high unemployment rate to not having enough transition planning.
“If you check all the boxes for being a good student, that doesn’t necessarily correlate to what a work environment is because a lot of the work that you’re doing in college is solitary,” Fairbanks said. “The workplace requires collaboration, and it requires communication skills, and it requires self-directed initiative. Those are things that, a lot of the times, the neurodiverse population struggles with.”
Kelly Krause is a part-time student with autism. He is studying computer simulation and gaming at Milwaukee Area Technical College. He will be graduating in June 2021.
He wants to be a game designer who can work from home.
“The easiest (part about college) is learning stuff,” Krause said in an email interview that was dictated by his mother. “Hardest part is social part like group stuff and peers.”