By Hannah Davis
The Autism Spectrum Support Club provides social interaction for autistic students.
“We do a bunch of different activities,” Miranda Gilmore said. “Last week we went mini golfing, this week we’re going to Buffalo Wild Wings to have dinner together.”
This group sounds like friends having a good time, and that’s exactly what the Autism Spectrum Support Club at the college is intended for.
“We’re registered with the Center of Student Involvement and the club consists of students here that are on the spectrum, the autism spectrum, also we have student mentors –anybody that wants to volunteer in a club,” said Karen Miller, Access Services adviser and faculty adviser to the club. “And the great thing about having student mentors is that students on the spectrum sometimes have problems with social skills, social interactions, just kind of knowing what the appropriate social place is to stand, things like that […] We’re really kind of geared toward social interaction, so we usually meet, have a short meeting, and then we do some sort of social activity, whether that’s on or off campus.”
The club started three years ago when Ben Edwards, a student on the autism spectrum, advocated for it.
Sean Swindler, director of community development for the Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training, helped Edwards achieve his goal of forming a small organization at the college.
“Ben’s vision for the club was that he wanted a club that allowed students on the spectrum and typical students to meet,” he said. “They come to the club together.”
Gilmore, a peer mentor for the club and student at the University of Kansas, plans to work with autistic children when she graduates. She began working with children on the autism spectrum in college.
“I always left feeling rewarded by having the experience that day, and I always wanted to go back to see the changes they made,” Gilmore said.
“It’s really rewarding seeing their progress. One example, I used to work with a little boy who was non-verbal, and seeing him just talk in the slightest way was just a huge accomplishment for him and me.”
Some students with autism have what Swindler called a “hidden disability.”
“You may not recognize the challenge [autistic individuals] have sometimes with people because they may not have those social skills,” Swindler said. “Somebody may have a wonderful vocabulary or memory, but they don’t know how to act socially.”
Miller said something similar about misconceptions people have about those on the spectrum.
“Because of those sometimes missing social queues, students may not think they’re very friendly,” Miller said. “They do want to be social, part of a group, but they don’t know how. That’s why I think the mentors are good, because they’re able to kind of show them ‘This is people’s space, you stand here, not here.’ And I think that they’re not always listening, but they are listening.”
Those involved with the club hope to raise awareness about autism to the community.
“I think raising awareness is important because a lot of people don’t know what it is,” Gilmore said. “I think people just assume that its worse than it is. A lot of kids are completely different. Every case is different. You can’t generalize that at all.”
Just like in other diseases, autism can be minor, severe or somewhere in between.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 88 children have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
“In general, if a faculty member was teaching three classes, they would statistically have one person in their classroom that’s on the spectrum,” Miller said.
The club meets every other Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in the cafeteria.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Gilmore said. “It’s definitely something I enjoy being a part of.”
Contact Hannah Davis, news editor, at email@example.com
Gabrielle Fitzgerald, features editor, contributed to this article