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Accommodations for students - HOW

We’re excited to present to parents and families on Thursday night with Autism Tennessee. The event has been promoted on social media. I received a message (via another social media platform) from a young man who is on the autism spectrum and is a freshman at a large, flagship state university. He asked what types of services we (GEC) provide. Through our dialogue, I realized he had received accommodations from disability services at his institution - a letter to give to professors basically saying, “Hey, I have autism” and some sort of housing accommodation. He was looking for peers and social support networks; he said he had called a couple offices and looked online with no success. I found one student organization that has “game nights” for students on the spectrum, but the organization didn’t appear overly active.

Having worked in student affairs at Purdue and Vanderbilt, I knew that social groups and networks exist for college students on the spectrum and assumed there had to be something similar at this large, public institution. I called disability services, explained that one of their students had reached out to me, several states away, and asked what services they provide in terms of social support. This could have been just a student worker at the front desk, but I was informed their office only provides academic accommodations. She referred me to student advocacy; I received a similar response with the next office. Both persons who answered the phone were very nice and apologetic for not knowing or having more information.


I always want to give students more information and hope; I certainly wasn’t going to change that mindset now. I felt like I HAD to let someone know there was a student in need. I found the staff directory and sent an email to the assistant dean over student advocacy letting her know how the student found us on social media and that he needed support. Through my dialogue with the student, he said I could share his name and refer him. I didn’t ask for his contact information as I knew the institution could find him. (I may have also figured out that this staff member had worked with two former colleagues and I may have name-dropped those connections as well to let her know I’m not completely crazy and I know what I’m doing.)

I received a response email this morning from the dean this morning; she is setting up a meeting with the student to discuss “the variety of groups and support” within campus life for him. I think she appreciated my email and will follow up; she has good intentions. I followed up with the student and he is excited about the connection.

If there are a variety of groups and support, why aren’t these clearly stated on their website, or provided to the student when he or she receives accommodation information from disability services? Why did two front-line workers in student affairs not know about these services for students on the spectrum?

The stars aligned and I knew enough to seek out the right person to connect the student. The more important reminder for families is to keep in mind what services are available to students with particular needs. How do schools accommodate students on the spectrum? Students with food allergies? Students with mental health needs? Students with physical limitations? These conversations need to occur, and with greater collaboration across campus departments, early and often. Most, if not all, institutions will say they can or will make accommodations -- but HOW should be the follow up question. I share this as a reminder to parents and students to really ASK about accommodations as a deciding factor in which institution to attend. -BWG

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