At Mansfield Hall we are firmly committed to advancing the cause of inclusion on college campuses, and to broadening both access and success for students with aspergers, autism, and other learning disabilities. We know that college can be a great environment for growth and development, and we also know that all students – not just students who may need extra or specialized support – thrive in inclusive environments.
For this reason, we are encouraged to see ongoing efforts in post-secondary education to remove barriers to academic accommodations, as well as the proliferation of on-campus resources, support, and student services for diverse learners – and we encourage colleges and universities to continue their efforts to provide these services.
With this opportunity also comes the responsibility to clarify that not all support models are created equally.
It is important for colleges to be both cognizant and clear about what is, and is not, offered – and equally important for students and families to be cognizant and clear about what is, and is not, needed in order for a student to succeed. There is no universally accepted definition or standardization of these services – which is not, inherently, a problem – but as more and more colleges and universities are adding services for students with autism, aspergers, ADHD, executive functioning challenges, dyslexia, or other learning differences there is a greater need for students and families to fully understand the opportunities, and limitations, of what is offered in any given service model.
Elements to consider include services which are islands vs. integration, reactive vs. proactive, and student-initiated vs. staff-initiated. There is no “right” model – but understanding and matching needs and services is critical for long-term student success.
Islands vs. Integration:
Some schools do a great job of creating pockets of support – but those pockets are segmented and exist in a vacuum. Writing support for a poli-sci class may not extend to writing support for an english paper (especially as they are in different departments). Likewise, if a student’s challenges are rooted in executive functioning then they are likely to be pervasive across all domains – academic and non-academic – and a lack of integrated services may leave problem pockets severe enough to damage collegiate success, even if students are receiving tutoring or support in specific areas.
Integrated services take a holistic approach to college support, and have the flexibility to provide support across not only multiple academic subjects, but also across multiple domains (academics, social life, independent living, etc). Understanding a student’s needs can help ensure that the appropriate supports are available.
Reactive vs. Proactive:
Colleges have become increasingly well-equipped to react to any number of student needs – be they academic, social, or otherwise. There are entire offices dedicated to writing support, math tutoring, social engagement, physical or mental health, and more. That said, almost all of these services are designed to react and respond vs. anticipate and avoid them.
Too many students find themselves in the writing lab only after they have failed multiple writing assignments, or in the math lab only after they realize they are at serious risk of failing a course. Likewise, counseling services may be able to respond to a mental health crisis in the moment, but the campus often has little to offer in the way of proactive social support for students who are unaware of their own needs – or unable to ask for the help they need.
Proactive services recognize and address the known problem areas for students in their transition to college and create a series of supportive and scaffolded services which help students avoid the types of crisis, conflict, and confusion which can end an otherwise-promising college career. Students in proactive support services have regularly-scheduled meetings with academic advisors which go well beyond the basics of a 1x/semester course registration conversation. Proactive programming provides students with ample opportunities to make and keep social connections, and it keeps students actively involved in support networks which are preemptively providing the direct and indirect support needed to facilitate multi-dimensional collegiate success.
Student-Initiated vs Staff-Initiated
As many parents have unfortunately realized, choosing a school with available services does not always equate to their student utilizing them – in part because the traditional paradigm of collegiate support is still almost wholly dependent on students initiating and effectively utilizing the supports which are available. There are a host of reasons why this approach is absolutely appropriate for many students – but it is also important to recognize that this paradigm represents a plethora of pitfalls for many others.
For students who are self-aware, can honestly assess their own needs, and who have the ego strength to self-identify and effectively self-advocate in order to receive critical services, the traditional paradigm is plenty effective – and the additions of and advances to on-campus support programs on college campuses greatly favors these students. This is to be applauded, commended, and continued.
However, far too many students who would otherwise benefit from these services are still left outside the service bubble in paradigms which are self-advocacy and student-initiation dependent. Too many students with academic, social, or other diverse learning challenges simply fail to recognize when they are struggling, they fail to effectively self-advocate, and/or they fail to be served by the very offices which are designed to meet their needs. Additionally, while a student may recognize their own needs academically, this does not mean that their holistic needs are being adequately addressed.
It is important for students and families to evaluate actual (not aspirational) needs, and to understand how those needs impact the various domains of life in college. Students are better-served with the proliferation of services on campuses, but students are best served when strengths, needs, and areas of growth are appropriately matched with service delivery options, models, and paradigms.
We encourage you to learn more about Mansfield Hall’s community and our Four Core Approach, which supports college students in an integrated, holistic, and proactive manner.