Thursday, June 24, 2010

Calling all College Instructors

I had an interesting experience last semester. In a lecture on perception, I mentioned (because I had been reading so) that people with autism (my brother has it) do not perceive less than others, but they perceive more and that their behaviors are to block out or filter or deal with the overload. One boy in the back of the room said, "I know that's true because I'm autistic and .... "

That's one of those "moments of truth." I often do not handle them well, but this one I did. Since the young man had not done anything that indicated autism to me (other than being nerdy), after he talked about himself I said, "Do you have Asperger's?" to which he said, "Yes, and ADD." Another young man in the class was giving me signals that he was in the same boat.

There is something ironic and yet appropriate about this incident--only a student with Asperger's or Austism Spectrum Disorder would just announce it so boldly in class. Later in the class, now that I was forewarned, I started to see his behavior differently, especially in one instance (maybe I'll write about it later) when he was particularly insensitive to a classmate and a social situation.

But this got me thinking, and I believe I have found an untapped research area, and one that really matters to students and instructors. How does average Joe or Joan college instructor--adjunct, instructor, tenure track, veteran--especially in an open-access college--deal with the autistic students who are going to start entering our classes, if the numbers are growing and if more and more access to education will be granted them?. I know I dealt with at least four this last year. And what about those in skill classes, especially a communication skills class, when that is the main area that distinguishes autistic students from typical ones?

There are two definitional problems. Labeling a student autistic is not really acceptable, but other labels are long and awkward. And normal is not a "good word" either. That aside, this is a real problem and I am going to study it, interview professionals and students, to see where it can go.

If you have any insights, let me know.


  1. Since 1993, my focus as a Learning Specialist has been the critical high school-to-college transition for students with learning disabilities. I am passionate about seeing the postsecondary success rate for this cohort rise, as I feel that many of our students are failing unnecessarily.

    I invite you to check out my exciting new blog, Conquer College with LD/ADD, at

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  2. Joan--thank you so much. Yes, I will be looking at your blog. Sorry for the delay!