Supporting students on the spectrum


By Katelyn Larson

Supporting students in the spectrum

In the fall of 2004, less than 10 students on the spectrum attended the college. Now, nine years later, over 60 students on the spectrum do; and those are just the ones who have requested accommodations.

This year, the college hosted a conference about autism, titled “Beyond the Diagnosis: Autism Across the Lifespan,” on Oct. 18 and 19. The sixth annual conference aimed to help answer questions that parents, teachers and health professionals might have about working with students and children with autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is any of various disorders, such as autism and Asperger’s syndrome, commonly manifested in early childhood and characterized by impaired social or communication skills, repetitive behaviors or a restricted range of interests.

With the extensive services for spectrum students the college has, it is no wonder the population of spectrum students requesting accommodations has increased.

Some of the strategies for success the college implements are educational information for staff and faculty, in-service training, new faculty orientations and department specific information sessions.

The college also has what is known as the TIPS program. TIPS is a transition program, currently in its ninth year, for learning disabled high school seniors during their spring semesters.

“It was the easiest transition I’ve ever experienced,” said Josh Edwards, a student with Asperger’s.

According to Holly Dressler, chair/ Access advisor, it’s a wonderful opportunity to reach out to students with the support of high schools. It prepares the students for change and teaches them to focus on their strengths and how to battle problems using them.

“So many of the time these students are told what their weaknesses are, since day one,” Dressler said.

A few of the many accommodations and services the college provides for the students include note takers, tutoring, preferential seating, mid-semester progress reports and weekly meetings with an advisor.

In addition to the support they receive at school, according to Dressler, it’s important to not stop that support from home.

Some of the benefits of community college for students on the spectrum are its proximity to home, small class sizes and usually less busy work


“With JCCC I get to experience college the same as everyone else,” said Edwards. “In high school, you know what’s expected of you. In college, no matter who you are, your success is completely up to you.”

The college also has an Autism Spectrum Support Club, a cooperative program with the Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training. The club welcomes students and mentors from both the college and KU.

“I feel more accepted than I did in high school,” said Edwards of the club. “I’ve finally found more than one or two people who understand me.”

In addition to the TIPS program and the Autism Spectrum Support Club, the college shows its support for students on the spectrum by hosting the annual Kansas Autism Conference, which this year, according to Mary Jean Billingsley, program director, had a turnout of more than 200 people with some coming all the way from places such as Canada and Florida.

For more information on Access Services or the Autism Spectrum Support Club contact Holly Dressler at or Karen Miller at

Contact Katelyn Larson, reporting correspondent at 



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