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Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst

The AIM program is OFFICIALLY CLOSED for the 2016-2017 academic year. We are no longer accepting applications. 


The AIM application is separate and distinct to being accepted to Mercyhurst University.

After 20 years of providing superior services to students with learning and sensory disabilities through the Learning Differences Program, Mercyhurst University once again has assumed a leadership role in college disability services. In 2008, Mercyhurst introduced a program to meet the unique needs of the growing population of college students diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) is designed for students who, while exhibiting superior intellectual ability, face challenges in executive functioning and social interactions. 

It is estimated that, within the next five years, one in every 100 college applicants will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. With support from AIM’s professional staff, our students on the spectrum have succeeded both academically and socially. Student input has helped shape the program; our students participate with faculty and staff in an advisory board to identify what students with ASD require to succeed on this campus.


The mission of the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst is to educate and develop skills for college students living with Autism Spectrum Disorders to improve vocational opportunities, social engagement and focus on abilities and not disabilities. 


The Learning Differences Program, founded in 1986, was the first of its kind in Pennsylvania and one of only a handful of programs across the county at the time. AIM students utilize may services already developed for the Learning Differences Program.

Public awareness about Asperger Syndrome (AS) and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) has increased over the past few years. Despite the awareness of documented superior intellectual capability of many students with AS, there are few colleges and universities that provide for the successful immersion of AS students on campus. AS students’ social awkwardness challenges these students and can be a barrier to success. 

Recognizing this need and untapped potential, in 2008-09 the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) was developed and a successful pilot program was launched. Five students excelled in a number of academic venues, including one who was inducted into Phi Eta Sigma, the Freshman National Honor Society, and admitted to the Dean’s List. These students met with faculty and staff to develop the structure of our program; student input has shaped Mercyhurst’s vision of what students with ASD require to be successful on this campus.

Our program focuses on a collaborative model that promotes the development of self-advocacy and independent living skills to encourage sound academic and social progress. Recognizing the role that parents have played in their students’ lives, families are consulted when appropriate in matters of concern. 

Additionally, this program is founded on a campus-wide model of collaboration. A representative from all administrative offices including Financial Aid, Residence Life, Police and Safety and Dining Services have had input into designing this program. This partnership has helped foster both academic and social growth in our students and contributed to their overall sense of satisfaction with their Mercyhurst University experience.

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AIM Program Highlights

Check out this video by one of our AIM students, Brandt Schafer - Opening the Doors

Students enrolled in the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) will be provided access to a number of unique academic and social features. Students in the program pay an additional fee for these services.

AIM Brochure

Academic Support includes:

  • Individualized course planning
  • Weekly meetings with program academic counselors to monitor academic progress and executive functioning
  • Availability of assistive technology (such as the Kurzweil Personal Reader and Dragon Naturally Speaking)
  • Access to peer and graduate-level tutors, note takers and other accommodations provided by the Learning Differences Program
  • Testing accommodations
  • Collaboration with faculty to address special learning needs
  • Priority registration to insure that class schedules fit personal-needs schedules
  • Access to all of the accommodations that students qualify for under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Social Support includes:

  • Priority for single room placement in the Living Learning Environment
  • Program lounge that provides a welcoming, safe place for students to relax and unwind
  • Optional meal gatherings to encourage socialization in dining hall
  • Participation in support group meetings
  • Group outings to on-campus events, in addition to occasional road trips to area attractions
  • Development of student-centered individualized behavior plans
  • Collaboration with faculty/staff to address specific behavioral needs
  • Peer mentoring.

Counseling Support includes:

  • On-site social skills group
  • Referral to Mercyhurst Counseling Center as needed
  • Facilitation of working relationships with Erie area psychiatrists

Vocational Support includes:

  • AIM Career Path Program offers vocational resources that include: Vocational Skill Development, A Career Path Experience, Job Shadowing, and assistance in obtaining internships and vocational opportunities.
  • Access to computer and other resources through the Career Development Center.
  • Community and National Resources specializes in employment services for individuals on the Autism Spectrum.

How To Apply to the AIM Program

The Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) provides special services for students diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism. In order to receive these services, qualified applicants must meet the standards required for admission to Mercyhurst University. Space is limited within the programs, so early application is encouraged.

Students must:

Students requesting accommodation on the basis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) must provide documentation from a professional who has undergone comprehensive training and has relevant experience diagnosing autism in children or adults (depending on student’s age of diagnosis).

Psycho-Social Documentation must include:

  • Thorough history by a developmental pediatrician or a developmental medical doctor
  • Comprehensive neuropsychological examination, within the past three years, including a discussion of the individual’s current functioning as it impacts the educational environment
  • Academic testing of standardized achievement tests, including scores; and a review of the academic record
  • Current social/emotional functioning; if not in neuropsychological evaluation, then by separate evaluator
  • Integrated summary, including impact of symptoms on learning, ability to functioning deficits as relevant to post secondary education
  • Clear identification of DSM-IV criteria
  • An interview including a description of the presenting problem(s) including any significant developmental, medical, psychosocial and employment issues; family history; and a discussion of dual diagnosis where indicated (a comprehensive summary/interview with both parents and a self-report is needed to get a view of the individual’s present function and ability)
  • Prescribed medications, dosages and schedules that may influence the learning environment, including any possible side effects

CREATE Summer Program


(Saturday, July 9-30, 2016)

The CREATE Summer Program (formerly known as Foundations) is specifically designed for college-bound teenagers with Asperger Syndrome and high-functioning Autism Disorder. The program focuses on the development of skills necessary to succeed in college and includes therapeutic, learning and social components. To qualify, students must be in at least the 11th grade.

The cost of the program is $4,750 and includes a $200 application fee, room, board, activity fees and tuition for a three-credit college course.

Specially trained staff provides individualized programming and one-on-one support for each participant including social communication skills, coping skills, organizational skills, daily living skills, emotional regulation, problem solving skills and behavioral competencies through participation in age-appropriate activities and community outings.

Daily activities include:

  • Seminars on navigating the campus community.
  • A three-credit college course.
  • College life/skill tutorials.
  • Weekly community outings.

Each student will be assessed before and after participation in our CREATE Program by members of our staff. Progress and Summary Reports will be made available to parents and the referring School District.

How to Apply to the CREATE Summer Program

Students must:

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Bradley McGarrymcgarry
Director of Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst
Location: Egan 304
Phone: 814-824-2451






Paulina Wielandt
AIM Coordinator
Location: Egan 301
Phone: (814) 824-2622

Adam Glass
AIM Career Path Coordinator
Office: Egan 307