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Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst

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

Deadline to apply is March 1.



The mission of the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) is to facilitate and support the successful adjustment and progression of college students on the autism spectrum in all domains of college life, thereby broadening their vocational opportunities, and enhancing social and community engagement. The AIM program strives to accentuate each students’ abilities within the academic, social, emotional, and independent-living domains, while building new skills within the domains where the student may be deficient.   


After 30 years of providing superior services to students with learning and sensory disabilities through the Learning Differences Program, Mercyhurst University introduced the AIM program in 2008 to meet the unique needs of the growing population of college students diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

AIM is designed for students who, while exhibiting superior intellectual ability, face challenges in executive functioning and social interactions. 

Public awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) has increased over the past decade, and it is estimated that 1 in every 100 college applicants are diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Despite the documented superior intellectual capability of many students on the autism spectrum, there are few colleges and universities that provide for the successful immersion of these unique students within the campus community. The professional guidance and skills of the AIM staff combined with valuable student input have shaped the AIM program, allowing students on the autism spectrum to succeed at Mercyhurst University both academically and socially.

The AIM program is 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 was 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 the design of the AIM program. This partnership has helped foster both academic and social growth in our students and has 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) are provided access to a number of unique academic and social features. Students in the program pay an additional fee for these services.

Download the AIM Brochure

Academic Support includes:

  • Individualized course planning
  • Weekly meetings with AIM 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, testing and other accommodations provided by AIM and the Learning Differences office.
  • Collaboration with faculty to address special learning needs
  • Priority registration to ensure 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:

  • Specialized AIM housing staffed with a program-specific housing coordinator and resident assistant. 
  • 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:

  • The 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 that specialize in employment services for individuals on the Autism Spectrum.

How To Apply to the AIM Program

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

In order to receive services through the AIM program, qualified applicants must meet the standards required for admission to Mercyhurst University. Space is limited within the program, 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 student's academic record
  • Current social/emotional functioning; if not in neuropsychological evaluation, then by separate evaluator
  • An integrated summary, including impact of symptoms on learning, ability to functioning deficits as relevant to post secondary education
  • Clear identification of DSM-V criteria
  • An interview including; a description of the presenting problem(s), 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 8-29, 2017)

The CREATE program was designed for students on the autism spectrum who have the academic ability to succeed in college, yet face significant limitations in their social and organizational skills. Our innovative program provides the opportunities for students to learn valuable study skills, develop/enhance social interactions, and hone independent living skills while adjusting to the rigor of college-level academics. To enroll in CREATE students must have at least competed their junior year of high school.

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
  • An extensive social skills curriculum
  • 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.

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

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
Assistant Director
Location: Egan 308
Phone: 814-824-2622






Andrea Obert
Academic Support Coordinator
Location: Egan 307
Phone: 814-824-2638






Adam Glass
Career Path Coordinator
Location: Egan 305
Phone: 814-824-2372






Holly Deitrick
Administrative Assistant
Location: Egan 301
Phone: 814-824-3819






Marcia Anderson
AIM Support Coordinator
Location: Egan 309
Phone: 814-824-2609