UC Kicks Off Pioneering Camp for College-bound Students with Autism

For many students with autism and their families, the idea of heading off to college can be daunting.  Now, a pioneering new program offered by the University of Cincinnati seeks to make that process easier by helping high school students with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders learn the skills they need to be successful in the classroom and beyond.  

The year-long pilot program kicks off Sunday with College Success Camp, a week-long residential camp designed to help college-bound high school juniors and seniors overcome obstacles unique to them in a fun, supportive environment.  

The camp, an initiative of UC Advancement and Transition Services (ATS), offers an immersive experience in which students develop critical academic, social and practical life skills necessary for academic and career success.  

“Often high-functioning students with autism get into college, but flounder or graduate without finding a job,” says Christi Carnahan, ATS director and associate professor of special education.  “The best way to help them understand what it’s like is to give them the experience before they get there.”

Campers will stay in campus dorms and have the opportunity to take part in social and recreational activities.  A targeted curriculum incorporates reading and writing instruction aided by engaging technology, team-building activities to boost confidence and peer connections, and mentoring with the social aspects and independence of dorm life.  

At the week’s end, each camper will receive a summary of reading and writing assessments, suggested areas for college success and goals to work towards as they transition from high school to college.  

“They get a true college experience,” says Carnahan.

That experience is especially important for students with an autism spectrum disorder, a range of neurodevelopmental brain disorders that affect a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.  

One in 68 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  In the first six years after high school, just 35 percent of youth with autism spectrum disorder went on to attend college, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Only 55 percent had held paid jobs outside the home.

Carnahan said that while preparing students on the autism spectrum for college and career is an emerging topic in research, few opportunities exist to address those needs.  

UC’s College Success Camp is the only camp of its kind in Ohio and one of just a few in the nation to offer this type of college experience, she says.  

The supportive network doesn’t end there.  ATS faculty and staff will work with degree-seeking students throughout the year to provide support in areas most challenging to them.  Students will have access to mentors, weekly social groups and courses that offer strategies to manage course work.    

This fall, ATS will launch the Collaboration for Employment and Education Synergy, a 14-week institute for high school students with autism or other disabilities that’s focused on developing employment and social skills training.    

And in October, ATS will implement an employment program aimed at providing on-campus employment opportunities for people profoundly affected by autism

“What this does is show a commitment to students to say we care about you, we want you to come here and we care about your success once you get here,” Carnahan says.   

Mariena Koize said UC’s camp couldn’t have come at a better time for her son Daniel, a high-functioning high school senior with Asperger’s syndrome who’s interested in pursuing studies in audio-visual media.  

“This seemed like a win-win situation.  It’s like having a taste of college so he can be better prepared for what to expect and the chance to meet other kids who deal with the same or similar challenges that he has,” she said.  “It’s a wonderful opportunity for our kids.”  

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