Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM)
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 Asperger 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 Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst is to educate college students living with Autism Spectrum Disorders in a program that equally emphasizes academic and social competency.
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.