Autism Spectrum Navigation Program

On May 19-20, members of the Disability Resource Center will be traveling to Waikiki, Hawaii to hold a workshop at the Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability and Diversity titled “Removing Access Barriers for College Students on the Autism Spectrum.” The workshop will discuss Bellevue College’s Autism Navigation Program and its focus on a context of social justice.

Sara Gardner, a program specialist at the Disability Resource Center and one of the attendees, explained: “The thing that’s distinctive about the program at Bellevue College is that we use a social justice model and not a medical model, so we’re not trying to fix our students or make them appear typical … we’re trying to help them understand themselves as a person on the autism spectrum and understand their own culture and the culture of people who think differently than they do so that they can navigate the world that is different from theirs while

still staying true to being their own unique self.” The BC program focuses on four major aspects: executive functioning, social interaction, self-advocacy and self-regulation. The workshop explores this foundation to remove barriers for individuals on the autism spectrum. BC’s program is a peer mentor model, where students have a mentor for guidance and support regarding issues faced at school. Gardner elaborated by saying, “[the mentors have] been to college themselves, they’re usually juniors or seniors from a nearby university, so they can speak to their own experience of having been in college and what it was like for them and stuff like that.” Overall, “participants should expect to take away from the workshop a greater understanding of the barriers – both physical and attitudinal – that deny access to college students on the autism spectrum.” The presenters from BC have goals on what they want to bring back from their experience as well. “We have to do a mini-presentation to our student services cabinet

when we come back about the stuff we saw while we were there, and who knows, we might just get really inspired again and do something terribly spontaneous and inspired,” said Susan Gjolmesli, director of the DRC and conference attendee, recalling what was achieved after attending the conference last year.

Gardner has goals as well, regarding what to bring back from the conference, and where efforts at BC will be focused in the future: “I’m really hoping to bring back and galvanize the Bellevue College community regarding non-apparent disabilities. …I think a lot of work through the years has been done and work still needs to be done regarding apparent disabilities, physical disabilities, but not much work has been done regarding non- apparent disabilities, and so our students with non- apparent disabilities are often looked at as just rude or stupid or socially awkward and they get shunned or they get looked over for opportunities. … That’s where I think a lot of the attitudinal work and change needs to happen.”DSC_0501