In February, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities announced that it is allocating $212,000 over three years to York University for a pilot project that will support students with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) as they make the transition to postsecondary education. Among its major objectives, the project, called the “Transitions Program for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders”, will help high-school students search for information about postsecondary support, apply, enrol and succeed in their university studies.
While still in the developmental stages, the initiative will offer early transition planning, one-day workshops and two-week transition programs. The initiatives will give students a snapshot of university life and articulate the expectations around the academic, social and environmental aspects of the postsecondary experience. In addition, York University will work with high-school teachers and guidance counsellors to discuss how best to support these students as they transition to university. Many other program supports are also slated for development.
Maureen Haig, manager, Learning Disabilities Services (LDS) in Counselling & Disability Services (CDS), says that York U has always been at the forefront of providing support for students on the autism spectrum. “This project focuses on a group that without these kinds of supports might not be successful,” said Haig. “We’re increasing the diversity of the University. It’s really in line with everything that York reflects and espouses around diversity and accessibility.”
The pilot project at York University is a collaboration between a number of key partners, including the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities; the Ministry of Education; the Ministry of Community and Social Services; Seneca College; and York University.
Haig notes that students with this disability often find it challenging to make the shift from high school to university. “Often one of the major concerns for students with autism spectrum disorders is the difficulty that they have transitioning or moving to new situations and new environments. It can provoke a lot of anxiety and stress,” she said. “ASD, because it’s an invisible disability, is one of the more misunderstood disabilities.”
Learning Disabilities Services continues to offer confidential, integrative services for students with learning disabilities. Before the Ministry announcement, LDS provided students with ASDs a variety of supports such as an ASD Peer Support Program, referral to the ASD Mentorship Program under the direction of Professor James Bebko in the Department of Psychology, an ASD Transition Day and the Summer Transition Program. It will continue to offer these services and events, while adding new ones for a better overall university experience for students on the autism spectrum.
“I’m very excited that York has been offered the opportunity to pilot this kind of project and this kind of program,” says Haig. “It’s nice to see that we’re able to build on what we have and we’re able to reach out to involve community partners to more fully support our students as they pursue their academics.”
York University’s Learning Disability Services itself began as a pilot project in 1985 as the result of a successful funding grant application by York psychology Professor Harold Minden to The Counselling Foundation of Canada. Currently, LDS is a unit within Counselling and Disability Services.
Submitted by Maya Sokolovski, a student writer in the Division of Students