Project TAP supports growing number of students on autism spectrum
Between 2008 and 2013, Harper College's Access and Disability Services division has seen a 300 percent increase in the number of students it serves on the autism spectrum. Most of the students have a superior intellect but struggle with the behaviors that support a successful transition from high school to college.
Faculty counselors Michele Decanio and Stacey Watson set out to better serve a vulnerable population during that particularly challenging period, launching Project TAP, or Transition Autism Program, last fall.
"There's so much support when they're younger from IEPs (individual education plans) to special education, and then all of a sudden they're cut off," Decanio said. "They experience a gap in services, and this program is meant to serve as a bridge."
Students have peer mentors who work on social and communication skills and look for ways to get involved on campus. They'll complete a job-ready program that aims to increase their employability. Their parents also receive support. In addition, educating faculty and staff on classroom behaviors and instructional tips is a focus.
The result: The first cohort is reporting superior grades, new social connections and increased independence. Demand has been overwhelming, and a waitlist has been in place from the start.
Decanio and Watson expect interest will only grow as the number of students on the autism spectrum increases. "We have a real passion for this population, and we believe this program is helping them to be successful," Stacey said. "It's been incredibly rewarding."