Ancilla College is launching a groundbreaking new residential college-level Autism program designed for high school graduates with autism. Plans were unveiled at a press conference Friday, April 7th at Ancilla College, located near Plymouth, Indiana.
The college named Kristen Robson as the program’s new director. She and other college faculty and staff were on hand at the opening news conference on campus.
Robson has had several years of experience working with adults with disabilities at Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania. First, as an undergraduate intern and later as a graduate student, Robson has focused on teaching academic and social skills to individuals with various disabilities. Currently, Kristen is working as a Behavior Specialist Consultant at the Achievement Center and adjunct professor at Mercyhurst.
“I am truly excited to be joining Ancilla and launching the new initiative here. Building a college program for students with autism is incredibly important. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a highly complex disorder which spans a spectrum from severe to those high functioning and, with support, can lead independent lives,” Robson said.
Working specifically with individuals on the Autism Spectrum, Robson continued to assist with developing academic and social skills required for successful employment after graduation. Throughout that time, she has contributed to the study of effective interventions for adults with disabilities and has presented findings at conferences such as the Pennsylvania Association for Behavior Analysis and the Association for Behavior Analysis International. In 2015, she graduated with a Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis and became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst the following fall.
“We have an ideal setting for a program designed to build academic and social skills for these students. Ancilla’s program will be aimed at providing this valuable and important student population the opportunity to become engaged students and more importantly successful members of their career and community,” Robson said.
Opening the door to students with autism is important to Robson. “All students should be afforded the same opportunity to receive a college education, and Ancilla is helping to make that possible,” she said.
According to recent national studies, about 2 percent of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with some type of Autism Spectrum Disorder. But, according to the National Autism Indicators Report of 2015, only 36 percent of young adults diagnosed with autism ever attend college or vocational-technical schools.
“There are a variety of methods and programs in place to support young students Autism, but there are few programs in the U.S. for students with autism after high school. This is obviously frustrating for these students and their parents. Many students with autism have tremendous intellectual gifts that are simply not able to develop because of other aspects of ASD,” Ancilla President Dr. Ken Zirkle said.
Students who graduate from Ancilla College with an associate degree can transfer to colleges and universities across the country. Students from Ancilla will have a guaranteed pathway to transfer to the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) Program. The college will be seeking similar transfer agreements with other universities.
Last Fall, Ancilla College was awarded a grant from the Ball Brothers Venture Fund, in collaboration with the Independent Colleges of Indiana (ICI), to begin developing a program at the college. The grant allowed the college to begin training staff last year and the center will develop a series of web-based resources for soon-to-be high school graduates on the autism spectrum. Information and training resources will be shared with faculty and staff at other ICI campuses.
The grant is the first step in Ancilla’s long-term plan to create an on-campus center for autism education that will train and educate high school graduates on the spectrum. The college hopes to develop and extend a program for students to learn how to thrive in college with developmental programs specific to their needs and skills.