Thu. Feb 21st, 2019

Students with autism seek out inclusivity, understanding

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By Dalen Barlow– 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one out of every 68 children born today is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. That is up from one in every 1,000 births just over a decade ago. The direct cause for the disability is still unknown to doctors.

In light of the disorder’s growth, one panel in the “Embracing Disabilities for an Inclusive Campus” program discussed how U of L can be more sensitive to the needs of students with autism.

Jason Smiley, a U of L student, described his experience with autism.

“I’ve been working on my diagnosis since 2009. I was having issues with anger. I couldn’t hold down a job and I had a lot of differences with my family. I couldn’t understand what was causing all of these revolving circumstances. I was even homeless at one point. Now that I’ve been diagnosed, I’m able to understand things better and work through them.”

Laura Ferguson, from the Kentucky Autism Training Center, says most cases of autism spectrum disorder are seen as a developmental disability. This can affect many aspect of one’s life on a wide scale. Ferguson referred to the variation of symptoms as the autism spectrum.

“Patients can either have very small symptoms that aren’t very challenging, or they can have issues with communication, anger, and violence that can make it very difficult. It all just varies from patient to patient.”

Although a big part of Autism is the communication aspect, social and emotional abilities are also affected. People diagnosed with autism often have difficulties following along with what would be considered “normal” behavior and recognizing nonverbal communication.

“Students with autism do not have to look to listen,” stated Ferguson. “Most teachers fail to realize that a student with autism will learn very differently than other students.”

Cathy Patus, director of the Student Disability Resource Center, talked how professors could accommodate students with autism spectrum disorder.

“I often encourage students that fall somewhere on the spectrum to share their diagnosis with their professors. It often helps for faculty to know so they can make appropriate accommodations and be understanding of that specific student’s situation.”

Patus stressed that more needed to be done to help the faculty understand the challenges that students with autism face.

When asked about his experience at U of L, Smiley said, “So far my experience as been good. Mrs. Cathy (Patus) has been there to help me and made the process a lot easier.”

The March 31 panel was part of the Student Disability Resource Center’s three-day program. For more information about the disability center on campus, visit For more information about the Kentucky Autism Training Center, visit

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