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Legibility of Autism on Campus

Last updated on April 27, 2020

Kerri Greco ’21

Looking at accessibility on this campus, an important thing to emphasize is the consideration of disabilities that aren’t as easily recognizable. When people talk about disabilities, the first thing that comes to mind is someone who is in a wheelchair. And when we talk about accessibility, they think of elevators and ramps to accommodate for them. People with disabilities that aren’t as easily recognizable are commonly overlooked when providing accessibility. Legibility is a term that we discussed in class – by definition it is how understandable and identifiable something is (Hamrai). While there are disabilities that are strictly physical and some that are strictly mental and some that are a mixture of both, one does not reign “superior” to the other. Just because some disabilities are more recognizable than others doesn’t diminish the legitimacy of one’s disability.

As we move into the month of April, we recognize in understanding and acceptance, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is a developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact. Statistics from the CDC report that approximately 1 in 54 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with ASD. Not one diagnosis of ASD is exactly the same, each individual is met with a distinct set of strengths and challenges. Their abilities can range from highly skilled to severely challenged.

According to a study in 2011, about 17 percent of young adults that have been diagnosed with ASD enroll in a four-year college. For any young adult entering college, it comes with many new experiences and tough transitions. It is your first time living on your own, away from the protection and guidance of your parents. But for those with ASD, it can be especially disorienting and bring about many different challenges. 

In accordance with The American with Disabilities Act (ADA), college students with disabilities are permitted to receive special accommodations. This can include extended deadlines on assignments and extra times on exams. “The resources that we have on campus are great, especially the office of student success and the office of student disabilities. The Office of Student Disability Services meets my needs for extended time on exams and quizzes so that I can succeed. Extended time helps me not worry about the time limit and it also allows me to concentrate better because I can have more time to think about my answers” said Tate Fryczynski ʼ22 on the resources available on campus. Frycznski was diagnosed with ASD when he was 18 months old and has since then seen himself be able to grow and blossom and Saint Joe’s thanks to the resources that are provided, “I was able to live an independent life thanks to all of the therapy and support I have gotten because no one ever stopped believing in me,” said Fryczynski. 

Tate Fryczynski ’22 at the Kinney Center Run/Walk this past Fall.

But the needs of students with ASD go beyond just academics. Many require support in their social and personal lives. Although it is not a diagnostic feature of ASD, those diagnosed with ASD have high rates of anxiety and depression as well. Acceptance on campus is a big challenge and fear for students with ASD. “There were some moments that I have felt accepted and welcomed on campus, but for some places, I just never did,” said Dave Hummel ʼ20 on his comfortability on campus. “I just wish there was more understanding and acceptance on campus,” said Hummel. “I wish that the university offered more courses on autism and acceptance in the classroom and the world.” Those who are diagnosed with ASD have this label of “autistic” that sticks with them. These labels that come along with disabilities are highly socially constructed. People see or hear a difference between individuals and how they function and point it out. Just because someone has a harder time in social situations doesn’t exclude them from society and the rights and opportunities that are presented to society. This is what causes the distress amongst those who have autism, the social construction of their disability creates an outcast status – a misfit. This is when an environment does not sustain the function of the body that enters it. Misfits can be excluded from the public sphere due to their differences from the “standard”.

Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support on Saint Joseph’s campus.

Looking at other Universities in comparison to Saint Joe’s, our campus has done a good job at providing the necessary resources for students with ASD. Our campus prides itself on the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. Their mission is to “educate and train the autism professionals of tomorrow, while supporting and serving the individuals and families affected by autism today” (Kinney). Our campus has made great strides at making this campus accessible to students with ASD. There are programs like the Kinney Center that provides education for students on disabilities that go beyond the physical body. To instill the knowledge of all disabilities – physical, mental, or both – being recognized and accepted in society. Hopefully, there will be future endeavors to broaden this accessibility for these students, beyond the classroom. 

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