For some students with autism, the idea of operating in the social environment of a college classroom can be so debilitating as to derail the pursuit of higher education at all. For those who do enroll, their condition can make it difficult to succeed in a traditional classroom setting.
But Dana Reinecke, in the department of applied behavior analysis at the Sage Colleges in Albany, N.Y., said she realized that through online learning, students with autism can overcome those barriers. “It allows them to learn from their most comfortable environment, whether it’s home, a library, a friend’s house, a treatment center, their psychiatrist’s office,” she said. “It takes away that need to be in a room full of people that they might be uncomfortable with.”
I just hope that the program will be limited to those autistic students who specifically choose to participate in it because that’s what they (not their parents) want. I also hope that autistic students who prefer to receive on-campus instruction will not be steered away towards online learning.
I just walked down our building’s hallway and noticed how many disabled students there are in the classrooms, in the hallways, in the computer lab, in the cafeteria, etc. At the other universities where I taught, I never saw such a significant number of people who are visibly disabled on campus. A society that expects its disabled citizens to hide from view so as not to disturb the sensibilities of the able-bodied folks is a fully fascist one. And I’m sure everybody knows by now that I don’t use this word lightly.
If autistic students decide they don’t feel like being on campus, I believe they should definitely be accommodated. However, those of us who want to be on campus should be recognized as valid inhabitants of the academic world who can freely do so.