January 26, 2017
West Chester University has long provided academic and mental health supports for WCU students, but necessary, college-level, behavioral supports have not been available — until now.
Under Corinne Murphy's grant leadership, WCU is one of four Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) institutions launching a three-year autism spectrum disorder (ASD) student pilot program. Now, the Dub-C Autism Program (D-CAP) provides evidence-based social and behavioral supports to help WCU students succeed, at no cost to the student.
"Students with ASD may have independent living and executive functioning challenges, such as communication, time management, and problem-solving skills," says Murphy, chair of the University's Department of Special Education and executive director for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Autism Resource Center (SPARC). "They also have social challenges, both in awareness and in their ability to maintain social relationships with University faculty, staff, and their student peers."
In the 2016-17 academic year, at least 25 WCU students have identified with ASD through the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities, while as many as 75 students on campus may also have ASD.
Under the supervision of Director Cherie Fishbaugh and two graduate assistants, D-CAP students participate in individualized skill development, group social sessions, and Adventures in D-CAP, where WCU students with and without ASD gather for community activities. Participants enjoy a safe environment to discuss experiences, ask questions, and better understand the changes of lifestyle/education/social interactions when going to college.
Fishbaugh notes that WCU will offer "a summer program for incoming freshman on the spectrum. Students will take six credit hours, live in the residence halls, use the dining hall, participate in social and independent living seminars and events, and have the opportunity to meet other students on the spectrum." In addition, WCU and Kutztown are collaborating on an overnight experience at Kutztown this summer for high school students on the spectrum to acquaint them with the basics of college life and support them with training on social and independent living skills.
Financial support for the program comes from the WCU provost, Pennsylvania Bureau of Special Education, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, and PASSHE.
D-CAP graduates will be followed beyond graduation, notes Murphy. "Success means that our alumni have professional careers, are living independently, and are leading very happy lives once they leave West Chester University."