Aurora U. alumni on the autism spectrum reflect on navigating college

Aurora University alumni on the autism spectrum returned to campus on Thursday, March 24 to reflect on navigating college learning experiences.

The AU Autism Initiative organized “Neurodivergent Pathways: Sharing Perspectives on Autism”, a public panel discussion, at Auditorium Crimi. Panelists were 2020 graduate Kelsey Kenneally; Cassie Greenhill, AU ’21; Mark McDonough, AU ’19; Rachel Metcalfe, AU ’18; Linda McDonough, mother of Mark McDonough; and Brianne Jonathan, Facilitator and Panel Director, AUtism initiative.

Jonathan said the goals of the AU Autism Initiative are to provide a four-year college experience, prepare students to enter the workforce, train professionals in autism and organize summer camps for high school students.

To achieve its goals, AU launched Pathways in 2021. The program supports students with autism as they transition from high school to college, graduation, and entering the workforce. The program begins when students are in high school, with summer camps and ongoing enrichment programs to provide a taste of college life.

After admission to UA, students spend their first two years focusing on developing executive functioning, social and emotional skills, and independent living skills. The final two years of students focus on transitioning to the workplace by observing, learning, and practicing the professional skills of workplace professionals.

The first batch of Pathways students are expected to enroll at AU in the fall of 2022. Many will move into an under-construction dormitory, dubbed the “Nation’s First Living and Learning Center,” and designed to offer a mix housing and educational support for residents.

AU President Rebecca L. Sherrick said in a program brochure, “We believe that people with autism have meaningful contributions to make to society and the world of work. At Aurora University, we subscribe to the belief that neurological differences should be recognized and respected like any other human variation.”

For more information on the AU Autism Initiative, visit aurora.edu/pathways.

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