The incidence of autism has risen dramatically in the past two decades. The Autism Higher Education Foundation (AHEF) recognizes that the current lack of lifelong learning opportunities in higher education, music, and the arts for individuals with autism is a civil rights issue that demands immediate action. The Foundation's longterm mission is to create global access to educational opportunities for individuals with autism. The AHED is committed to creating, improving, and providing college-level educational opportunities to individuals on the autism spectrum who have requisite reading and writing skills and would like to continue to advance their learning beyond high school. As more children on the autism spectrum reach college age, there will be a greater need to help these individuals develop and nurture their strengths so that they can lead more rewarding lives.
Vanda Marie Khadem, Esq is the founder and President of the Autism Higher Education Foundation. She has been practicing law for over 20 years in Massachusetts. Her practice concentrates on family and special education law with a focus on representing children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Vanda is a champion of this cause not only due to her advocacy on behalf of her client population, but also because she was personally impacted by her own daughter Sarah's diagnosis on the spectrum at age three. Vanda quickly recognized the need to fight for her child and her many clients to get the services and education they deserve. There is a paucity of programs for children on the spectrum as they age out of "the system" at age 22. Vanda feels that the situation is reaching epidemic levels as more children are coming of age. She recognizes the need for the right kind of educational interventions so that a child can discover his/her own personal gifts and potentially soar. Vanda states, "We have to look for lifelong learning opportunities for these children." She goes on to say, "with specialized instruction, children with AsD can soar beyond our expectations. Children who are diagnosed with ASD need the right education interventions. When these are developed and applied, the child can learn age appropriate materials." Vanda fervently believes that the lack of "lifelong learning" opportunities for individuals with autism is a civil rights issue and the next frontier in human rights, which demands immediate redress.
As children with autism reach adulthood, they face an issue of basic access to higher education. Vanda believes that there is nothing that an individual with AsD cannot accomplish given fertile soil. She adds that it often takes awhile before an individual's gifts are recognized. Those with ASD generally experience challenges with communication and socialization so they need to be approached in a different way. There are many techniques to teach children with this disorder, and no one technique works with every child. The techniques needed are as unique as each individual child. For example, applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is commonly used for children with AsD, but in the case of Sarah, age 12, ABA helps her to learn academics but not music. Clearly, every technique doesn't work for all subjects. Sarah has excelled as a clarinetist at school and has developed much self-esteem through this pursuit.
As it became clearer to Vanda that this population's future would be bleak if no one advocated on their behalf for lifelong learning opportunities, she assumed the task. As she said, "These children have to be given a chance to contribute to society." She gives an example close to her heart: "My daughter is a brilliant clarinetist, composing her own music, and now that she has found and expresses this particular talent she is seen differently by her peers. She is recognized as talented. She feels better about herself knowing that she has something special to contribute to the community. As people have the chance to demonstrate their strengths, they are viewed with pride and the individual views themselves with pride in return. …