Central Washington University’s Director of Student Disability Services, Wendy Holden, has partnered with Bellevue College’s Autism Spectrum Navigator Program Director Sara Gardner to launch the ASN program at CWU. Being one of the few colleges with a program that is specifically designed for autistic students, Bellevue College will help adapt the ASN program for CWU.
CWU chose to work with BC because other colleges that have an ASN Program charge their students a tuition that ranges anywhere from $1,200 to $8,000 per quarter or semester.
Also, after some research, CWU found that BC’s model was most successful in promoting a student’s individuality. Currently, ASN is the largest program of its kind in the United States.
Holden explained why she chose Bellevue College:
“My colleague Jesse Nelson, who is the Associate Dean of Student Achievement, and I recognized that autistic students had unique needs that were not met by traditional accommodations. Jesse interviewed autistic students on our campus and I did a great deal of research about programs at other schools. When I discovered the ASN program at BC, I was thrilled to see that it included every item on my list.”
The difference between other autism support programs and BC’s autism support program is the design. Usually, autism support programs follow the design of the Medical Model of Disability, which is a design that aims to help autistic students adapt to society. At Bellevue College, Gardner has applied a different approach.
“This program was designed as an access support program,” said Gardner, “The social model says that it is the environment that disables the student, and that by working on making the environment more accessible, the student can use their natural strengths to succeed.”
As the director of ASN program, Gardner and her colleagues work to educate the campus by teaching the faculty and students about diversity.
“The diversity model says that all people should be valued for their unique talents and gifts, and that there isn’t one norm that we should strive for,” said Gardner, “instead, we embrace our students’ differences and support them in exploring their strengths to help them reach their goals.”
Gardner herself was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum at the age of 42.
“At that time, I began an intensive study of autism and disability in general, and started working in my field. My son and I moved to the Seattle area several years later, at which time I started working at Bellevue College and created the ASN program,” shared Gardner.
This April, CWU will be holding a panel about challenges that autistic students and members face. There will be displays raising awareness of ableism, which is a form of discrimination against people with disabilities, and how it impacts autistic students.
CWU is also going to replicate the video game tournaments hosted at BC by the ASN program.
ASN students are taught how to take their autism and use it in a positive way, both academically and personally. Students take a two-credit class each quarter with other students that are in the program. In this class, they examine topics such as self-advocacy, executive functioning, self-regulation, stress management and more.
Gardner and Holden have been working together to make the ASN program a reality for CWU, who will be launching their ASN program this April.
In 2013, Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared the month of April as Autism Acceptance month. Gardner plans on taking advantage of this month in a number of ways.
The library on campus will display media slides of information about autism. The ASN program will also hold their fourth annual Autism Acceptance video game tournament on April 24 from 4 – 8 p.m. in the cafeteria.