Junior Kern Wallace wants to pursue a career in radio as a broadcaster or writer. College Link helps Kern and his peers increase their independent living skills, including early preparation for careers. (Photo: Stephanie Secrest)
Cal State East Bay is one of only a handful of higher education institutions nationwide offering a campus-based program that helps students with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) transition from high school to college successfully.
Regardless of scholastic aptitude, most students with an ASD struggle socially. Assistant Professor Shubha Kashinath supervises graduate students in the communicative sciences and disorders program who help with CSUEB's "Conversation Club". The group’s objective, Kashinath explains, is to boost members’ ability to read social and emotional cues that don’t come naturally to people with autism.Figuring out how to interact in social situations, communicating ideas and feelings, playing make-believe, imagining how another person feels, making friends and bonding with family members often doesn’t come easy for ASD students. Still others may have no language problems and an all-absorbing interest in a specific topic, such as baseball statistics or collecting things like bottle caps, as is common for those with Asperger’s syndrome, considered to be at the milder end of the autism spectrum.
More than an activity intended to boost participants’ ease at making small talk at parties, it’s the latest offering at Cal State East Bay that’s contributing to scholars’ understanding of autism, while providing services and support to individuals and families affected by the disorder. The University is also researching interventions and treatments for young children with the disorder.
“Knowing a person has autism or Asperger’s doesn’t tell you that much,” says Katie Brown, director of Cal State East Bay’s Accessibilities Services. “The label really doesn’t tell you anything about the individual.” Brown’s office oversees College Link, the program that offers the Conversation Club.
“The disorder is unique in that it’s mostly a social disorder that can be anywhere from completely invisible to completely obvious,” Brown explains. “You might have one student who can facilitate social situations very well. Then again, you might have a student who isn’t even aware he’s dialoguing outside his head.”
About 600 students of the 13,500 enrolled at California State University, East Bay, are registered with Accessibility Services, which assists students who have a range of mental, cognitive and physical health conditions such as limited vision, a learning disability in the area of reading or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
College Link offers support to students by helping determine their academic and independent living skills; setting goals; providing one-on-one coaching in and out of the classroom; and training them to use assistive technology. The program also offers structured groups to help students complete homework, facilitates opportunities for socializing — such as a recent bowling outing with the Conversation Club — and puts participants in touch with other university resources, such as workshops for improving study skills and personal finance strategies.
Read more about Autism interventions in the winter 2013 issues of Cal State East Bay magazine.