Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

UI REACH: A Postsecondary Program Serving Students with Autism and Intellectual Disabilities

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

UI REACH: A Postsecondary Program Serving Students with Autism and Intellectual Disabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract

Across the United States postsecondary education (PSE) options for young adults with autism and intellectual disabilities (ID) are emerging as a result of parent-professional advocacy group actions and legislation such as the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA). In this article the University of Iowa Realizing Educational and Career Hopes (UI REACH) Program, a thriving, well-integrated two year certificate program is described. We discuss the UI REACH model--its mission, student-centered and program goals, and strategies employed to ensure quality, sustainability, and continuous improvement. The student population, curriculum, staffing needs, and day-to-day operating issues are described. The experiences and perceptions of 14 students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) suggest that the program facilitates a positive campus living-learning experience for these students. Challenges and recommendations for institutions of higher education considering developing, or in the early stages of developing, similar programs are presented.

The profiles of students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) historically have been broadly described as externalizing and internalizing (Kaufman, Swan, & Wood, 1979) with the preponderance of students receiving special education services exhibiting externalizing behaviors (e.g., defiance, disobedience, temper tantrums, swearing, hyperactivity, destructive responses) (Coleman & Webber, 2002). Internalizing behaviors such as anxiety, depression, moodiness, irritability, social withdrawal, and inattention are often overlooked by educators and families as indicators of a need for services (Merrill & Walker, 2004). Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may exhibit both externalizing (e.g., temper tantrums, defiance) and internalizing (e.g., anxiety disorder, social withdrawal) behaviors and a range of cognitive aptitude (Adreon & Durocher, 2007). Although school-aged students with ASD today are more likely to be identified as needing specially designed instruction than in the past decade, until very recently there were limited postsecondary education (PSE) options available to them.

PSE opportunities for students with ASD are expanding nationwide. Legislation (e.g., the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008; the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act [IDEA], 2004) and the support and recommendations of influential departments and organizations (e.g., Autism Speaks; The National Council on Disability and Social Security Administration; The Council for Exceptional Children) have resulted in a burgeoning of secondary transition and PSE opportunities for students with ID, including ASD. Think College, a prominent website for students, families, and professionals identified 208 such programs located at community colleges, technical/trade schools, 4-year colleges, and universities (Think College, 2013). The significance of PSE to improved adult outcomes in such areas as employment (Moon, Simonsen, & Neubert, 2011; Zafft, Hart, & Zimbrich, 2004), sense of independence (Hendrickson, Vander Busard, Rodgers, & Scheidecker, in press; Neubert & Redd, 2008), and quality of life (Hughson, Moodie, & Uditsky, 2006) for individuals with disabilities is hailed but neither thoroughly documented nor fully understood.

Although a range of PSE options is available nationwide (Stodden & Whelley, 2004), there is considerable variation in the services and opportunities different institutions of higher education (IHEs) provide (Neubert & Redd, 2008). The general consensus of researchers and stakeholders is that a college or university campus is the ideal educational venue (Kleinert, Jones, Sheppard-Jones, Harp, & Harrison, 2012), but evolving campus-based programs are not well described in the literature and outcome data associated with types of practice is virtually nonexistent (Neubert & Redd, 2008). …

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