The Strategic Plan was developed through a staged process: a campus wide meeting in 2016 to explore the feasibility of an autism initiative; appointment of an internal/external advisory board; identification by board members of key success variables which must be in place; distillation and review of the mission, vision and strategic imperatives of the program.

The Mission of the Autism Program at Ancilla College

The mission of the Autism Program at Ancilla College (APAC) is to support highly capable college students on the autism spectrum and to give faculty and staff the resources for providing a supportive campus community.  It embraces the core values of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ (PHJC) including openness of spirit, community, simplicity, dignity, and respect which flow from joyful service to all, especially the underserved.  APAC will enhance the quality of campus life and increase the potential for successful career and/or future academic success.

Strategic Imperatives of the APAC program

The Strategic Imperatives of the APAC program are more than a set of general goals and were developed through a strategic action planning process.  Rather, they express what must be accomplished and sustained in an exemplary manner for the program to be successful. Ultimately, they express what must be accomplished and sustained for students to experience success.  The strategic imperatives are periodically reviewed by the advisory committee and are the basis for conducting all actions of the program.

The Strategic Imperatives for the Ancilla College Autism Initiative fall into four broad categories: transition to college life; living and learning in the college environment; transition to the baccalaureate degree and/or career; fundraising and financial sustainability.

Transition to College Life

There are several strategic imperatives focused on providing a strong initial transitional experience:

  • Ancilla College must provide comprehensive in-depth training on navigating the college environment prior to the first year of college
  • Ancilla College must provide comprehensive preliminary training regarding social engagement tailored to the individual student
  • Ancilla College must identify and communicate high expectations with regard to social interaction and behavior in the classroom, campus life and the community
  • Ancilla College must communicate high expectations with regard to academic performance and with adherence to the standard rules of campus life

Living and learning in the college environment

The following are the strategic imperatives for living and learning in the college environment:

  • Ancilla College must provide students the opportunity to live in facilities adapted to students on the high end of the spectrum
  • Ancilla College must provide appropriate accommodations with regard to the individual needs of students on the spectrum
  • Ancilla College must provide ongoing faculty/staff support in continuous improvement of the campus environment and application of best practices in the field
  • Ancilla College must provide high quality/qualified comprehensive counseling/other support services
  • Ancilla College must provide a well-structured process for enhancing social engagement, opportunities for internships and preparation for life beyond college

Transition to the Baccalaureate Degree and/or Career

The following are the key strategic imperatives related to the transition to the baccalaureate and/or career

  • Ancilla College must provide a comprehensive program for transitioning to the baccalaureate/career at the beginning and throughout the first two years
  • Ancilla College must develop a network of corporate and collegiate networks for career and academic placements with parallel early internship opportunities
  • Ancilla College must assist students in developing career portfolios

Fundraising and Sustainable Financial Stability

The following are the strategic imperatives for fundraising and sustainable financial stability:

  • Ancilla College must establish a transparent and multifaceted fee structure for the initiative which is distinctive but complementary to the institution fee structure
  • Ancilla College must implement an ongoing aggressive fundraising campaign focused on endowments, operational support and facilities
  • Ancilla College must establish a long term and stable funding resource/ budget in support of the program

(The diverse economic needs and resources of potential students requires support from multiple sources including state funding, foundations, grants and other sources.  The initiative, to support the 30+ student enrollees projected will require substantial financial resources beyond traditional academic programs.)

Mission/Vision/Strategic Imperatives as a Framework for APAC Activities

As the Ancilla College Autism Initiative unfolds, the mission, vision and strategic imperatives must provide a basis for all activities of the initiative.  Advisory Board meetings and correspondence will make ongoing reference to these elements of the Strategic Action Plan.  Specific individuals will be designated as the lead coordinators.  Measurable outcome statements will be developed for each strategic imperative with regular written reporting of progress toward those outcome.  Ultimataely, the program will be structured to serve 36 students with a possibility of incremental expansion, resources permitting.

Admission Procedures and Requirements

  • GPA-3.00 High School GPA
  • Screening Assessments
  • Assessment for Eligibility for Indiana Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Supplemental Funding

For further information, contact the Office of Admissions

Financial Resources

Potential financial resources include the following:

  • Ancilla Scholarships will vary according to eligibility
  • Other, e.g. student loans, special external scholarships, etc.
  • Special scholarships for students with special needs (Admission personnel can assist parents and students in seeking and applying for funding from funders who specialize in scholarships for students with ASD)

For further information, contact the Office of Admissions

The APAC Advisory Board

The APAC Advisory Board is appointed by the President of Ancilla College and includes faculty, staff, community representatives and professionals within the autism field. The role of the Board includes the following functions:

  • To serve as a resource for program personnel, faculty and staff of Ancilla College
  • To review and provide best practice recommendations for policies and procedures
  • To assist in raising funding for the program
  • To network with other professionals and autism organizations
  • Current members of the Board include the following:

Kristy Banks, Assistant Professor of Biology, Faculty Senate Chair, Ancilla College

Susie Black, Director/Ministry Center Services, The Center at Donaldson (Ancilla Campus)

Joshua Diehl, Ph.D., Chief Strategy Officer for Autism Services, Logan Center, South Bend, IN

Michele Dvorak, PHJC, Ed.D. Provincial Councilor/Vicaress, Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ

Emily Hutsell, Development and Alumni Relations Manager, Ancilla College

Kelly Manning, Director of Admission Events and Visits/Counselor/Recruiter, Ancilla College

James D. Riley, Ph.D., Chair; Institutional Partnerships/Strategic Outreach, President’s Office, Ancilla College

Kristen Robson, Director, the Autism Program at Ancilla College(APAC); ex-officio

Sam Soliman, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Ancilla College

Dr. Todd Stilson (MD), Physician, Saint Joseph Health System

Ellen Stillson, Plymouth/Marshall County Representative

Beth E. Sweitzer-Riley, Ph.D., Special Projects Coordinator, President’s Office, Ancilla College

Joel D. Thomas, Assistant Professor of English, Chair, Division of Humanities, Ancilla College

John “Jack” Weisz, Associate Vice President, Raymond James, Fort Wayne    

The APAC Tool Box for College Personnel

The APAC Toolbox consists of resources to assist higher education faculty and staff in creating a positive campus environment for students on the spectrum.  Current resources include the following;

  • A compilation of suggested practices to be implemented in selective settings within ICI institutions:
    • Targeted strategies for facilitating social engagement and talent enhancement

Action Planning for Social Engagement

What are strategies which can be used to enhance social interaction?

Compiled by the participant at The Ancilla College Autism Initiative:   Enhancing the Learning Environment, Part 2 February 17, 2017)

  • Connections Group – meet and greet, opportunity to learn and practice social prompts
  • Find way to connect students who have a need (social need; academic need) so there is a mutual learning experience
  • Education across campus so students can connect with faculty/staff/coaches who have an understanding
  • Get to know students on a personal level; understand where s/he is coming from
  • Continue – strive to establish an environment of comfort; maintain the effort, the relationship; raising awareness within FERPA boundaries; increase campus awareness; cultural climate
  • Peer mentor; role play; write scripts
  • Peer mentoring: match up students with a mentor on campus.  This will help students form meaningful relationships and better understanding.
  • Managing the environment
  • Help in transitioning activities, environment, modeling
  • Peer mentors; recruit for sports/clubs, connect the social needs to student with academic learning
  • Social group
  • Intentional housing; summer bridge program; revised awareness and caring environment
  • Establish and maintain climate of comfort
  • Scenarios and scripting
  • Create support systems with collaboration from other groups
  • Inclusive/UDL environments
  • Bring in someone (another student) who can be a coach or mentor to the student needing skill development
  • Life coach: adult who meets one on one and works on targeted needs to learn and practice coail interaction
  • Club for students on the autism spectrum where they pick activities for semester and meet weekly
  • Autism resources in community for activities of social interaction
  • Outlining – expectations/planning
  • Staging – contact group ahead of time model behavior/include somebody, observations
  • Small group interactions
  • Intentional housing – roommate, RA not letting a computer match up randomly; being intentional educating RAs.
  • Individualized mentoring – work with students intentionally, to help them be successful in relationships with neuro typicals.
  • Facilitating interactions in interest based activities (like Mercyhursts’s 2-club rule)
  • 1:1 direct contact with faculty – faculty needs to be aware of who is sitting in their classroom – able to accommodate
  • Student sensitization via mentoring – inclusion and helping, ways we speak to one another, giving guidelines
  • Required participation with support – socially or in classroom, knowing expectations
  • Model an interaction with small group; set up small group opportunities for interaction and adjust the group
  • Encourage involvement in extra-curricular
  • Personal support for interactions with unfamiliar situations
  • Progressive steps for achieving more challenging social interactions
  • Structured social interaction/engagement activities – snack time, birthdays, etc.
  • Let student define goals
  • Create opportunities for positive reinforcement (setting up situations)

Action Planning for Talent Enhancement

What are talent enhancement strategies? 

(Compiled by participants at The Ancilla College Autism InitiativeEnhancing the Learning Environment, Part2, February 17, 2017)

  • Cohort of ASD students talent night
  • New student orientation – let students know in advance (marketing, emails, etc.) that there will be prize drawings at end (Using discriminative stimulus) At these meetings there is information on call-outs and clubs that might unveil hidden talent and interests.
  • Project-based learning and problem-based learning opportunities
  • Create competitions on things they are good at like math, robotics, etc. while working on teams
  • Grad assistant and director teaming up to develop discussion guide for meeting with AS students. What are their talents and strengths?
  • Ask RAs or CMCs and faculty for their observations and suggest that they spend some time reinforcing positive interests
  • Foster Inclusion in broad range of activities
  • Objective – open
  • Opportunities
  • Developing a relationship through regular planned interaction
  • Structured group meetings with topical focus of interest
  • Understanding student needs first
  • Discussing student goals
  • Working with community to increase/decrease behavior
  • Applied behavior analysis – increase/decrease; gain/escape
  • Informal and/or verbal surveys of interest
  • Bring in outside community members to find out their needs and match students
  • Peer to peer mentoring or engagement intergenerational opportunities
  • Recognize the talents – point them out, discovery process
  • Find ways to utilize talents – how can we foster an environment of growth
  • Reinforce talent, positive aspects –RECOGNIZE and ACKNOWLEDGE
  • Modeling behavior in the classroom
  • Reflecting listening – advising/counseling
  • Desensitization – step by step sensory integration
  • Identify what individuals strengths through structured Summer Bridge Program (evaluation)
  • Identify how students learn; not all students on the spectrum are the same!

Orientation – encourage students to sign up for clubs

Some 70 participants in the Ball Brothers Venture Fund/ICI training workshops submitted the above strategies for enhancing social engagement.  Participants came from across the state from 20 institutions as well as Ancilla College faculty and staff. These strategies were developed during the three workshops and based on the practical experiences of college personnel in the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) model program over the past several years.

  • Parental suggestions
    • Selected strategies for easing the transition to college life:

Suggestions from a parent of an ASD student:

      • Allow student to take a break from the lectures if needed
      • Will need more time to answer in order to process
      • The more visual the better
      • Might need to rephrase
      • Is very perfectionistic and will try to answer what student thinks you want said.  Encourage to just answer any way student wants; never wants to disappoint.
      • Student is a worrier; let student know everything is fine.

By no means comprehensive, the above suggestions have been offered by the parents of students entering Ancilla College who are on the spectrum. We will be expanding this section periodically as additional students are admitted to the program.

  • Periodic Review of Professional Resources in the field of autism for college professionals
    • The Emerging Practices for Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum in Higher Education:  A Guide for Higher Education Professionals Report (A Collaborative Effort Focused on Beginning College Programs to Support Students on the Spectrum)

Evidence-based Review

The Book Review Section

Volumes have been written in the past two decades with regard to autism.  For college personnel, the challenge is to find the most relevant sources for learning about and developing college programs to support students with ASD.  In addition, the knowledge base related to autism at all levels is expanding exponentially.  There are many viewpoints and philosophies as to how to build effective college programs.  Good decision-making will be based on sifting through the ever expanding knowledge base and keeping updated on best practices will be a continuing challenge.  The book and resource reviews included will aid college professionals keeping updated.

Review no. 1

Emerging Practices for Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum in Higher Education:  A Guide For Higher Education Professionals (Lead Institution-The Rochester Institute of Technology)(Google “Emerging Practices for Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum. . .)

This guide was produced through a collaboration of the following institutions: Eastern University, Mercyhurst University, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, University of West Florida and Western Kentucky University.  Funding for the publication was provided by the Autism Speaks Family Services Community Grant.

The publication presents a thorough summary of recent practices developed at these institutions for building a community of support for college students on the high end of the autism spectrum.

The following topics are presented:

  • What is the Autism Spectrum Disorder?
  • Opportunities and Challenges in the College Environment
  • Mitigating Student and Environmental Challenges
  • The Campus-wide Response for Supporting Students with ASD
  • A Support Model Planning Worksheet
  • Selected Program Models (reflective of collaborating institutions)
  • Selected References

The publication is a foundation resource for institutions in the initial planning stages of building a campus community supportive of students on the spectrum.

In the section What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?, two of the main distinguishing features of ASD are described: difficulty with social interaction and restricted/repetitive behaviors and interests.  Additionally, rigid routines, heightened sensory function and difficulty expressing emotions are often present.  The origins of autism are briefly reviewed along with the associated perceptions of those origins.  Readers are reminded that students with ASD may also show evidence of the same developmental challenges as those without ASD: identity, cognitive and moral development challenges.  What may be missing in this section is a little broader description of associated learning challenges requiring a multiple accommodation plan for mitigating those challenges.  In addition, a fuller description of ASD from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder might be helpful to depict the complexity of ASD.

In the section Unique Strengths and Challenges of College Students with ASD, the tendency for students with ASD to learn within focused areas, a propensity for visual learning, presence of strong memory skills and superior mathematics skills is highlighted.  Areas of underdevelopment are described in six domains: executive functioning, academic skills, self-care, social competence, self-advocacy and career preparation-described as areas of challenge.

Executive functioning refers to meta-organizational capabilities which underlie the ability to organize/plan, self-direction/self-discipline.  Difficulty with EF can also lead to issues of impulse control resulting from the frustrations with the mismatch between college level expectations and students’ ability to meet those expectations.

Academic Skills as described are often termed “learning skills”-study skills, adjusting learning strategies to meet expectations, how to read a textbook and/or online study, research skills (especially online).  Problems with abstract language, writing (due to fine motor dysfunction) are also sometimes evident.  Any program should have strategies for addressing these issues.

Self-Care refers to personal wellness, hygiene, sensory integration, stress management, medication management (A substantial percentage of ASD students will have prescriptions to manage anxiety and/or other manageable health issues.)  Sensory overload issues, e.g. dining hall, constant presence of others, etc.) may manifest self-soothing behavior which may be inappropriate. Without programming to address these issues, students with ASD may face insurmountable challenges.

Social Competence refers to the ability to understand social interaction.  Understanding verbal and nonverbal communication is key to social competence.  Understanding “others’ perspective” or theory of the world is critical.  Social competence is a major hurdle to overcome and without it, students with ASD will not be able to function after graduation in almost any career field.  Students with ASD may actually possess excellent vocabularies and appear highly articulate which may lead to misinterpretation of social difficulties.

Self-Advocacy refers to the ability to know and communicate needs as well as basic rights.  Most students who have the opportunity to enter college have not had experience in this realm as parental advocacy has supplanted this function.

Career Preparation refers to exploration and eventual job search.  Given the difficulties in social competence, this may well be the most challenging domain in the long run.  Temple Grandin refers to her experience as a difficult and rock journey and she recommends emphasizes the development “back door” routes to eventual employment.  Making a transition to the world of work may be even a more difficult challenge given the total lack of supportive structure in most career settings.  She suggests developing those interrelationships with companies and career sources much earlier and creating opportunities for students to experience the world of work with correlative support.

Other challenges cited in this publication include the interaction of the applicable laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities at the high school level and the Americans with Disabilities Act, protective of adults with disabilities, including the dilemma of self-disclosure-the need to assist students in navigating this terrain.

The section on Mitigating Student and Environmental Challenges discusses strategies for mitigating challenges facing college students with autism.  The particular value of these strategies is that they are based on the practical experiences of the collaborative institutions: strategies that require changes in the college environment; strategies that directly impact those on the spectrum.

The importance of raising awareness of autism through support groups, mentoring, special events, guest speakers can be part of an overall indirect campus environment  initiative.  Ongoing training in all areas of the campus is critical in terms of fostering support but also of changing the culture and climate of the campus environment.  Tailored faculty and staff training is de rigeur of any program to support students on the spectrum.  One overlooked aspect of such training in this publication is the tendency for one size fits all answers juxtaposed with the need for the ongoing deepening of overall campus knowledge of autism.  Training never ends and knowledge continues to grow.

One suggestion is the designation of academic liaisons for each academic area.  While a desirable goal, it may be impractical in many settings to add still another responsibility to individual staff and faculty in some settings.  The contexts should be considered when implementing this best practice.

Another critical suggestion is a set of regularized appointment along the lines of an ongoing counseling model.  This, along with target services which specifically address the domains discussed above could prove beneficial.  Why not structure the targeted services within the contexts of a diagnostic model that targets the above domains as a part of direct support services?

What is particularly revealing is that most of the suggestions for (indirect support) mitigating student and environmental challenges should and could be a part of a broader initiative to serve all students since most of them are linked directly to higher levels of retention.  But this takes the expenditure of greater resources and may go against the grain of the academic view that students should be independent learners from the start.  These suggestions include mentoring, targeted instruction and transition to college programs (as well as transition to career).  In fact, to some degree, the challenges retaining students with ASD to graduation mirror those of retaining all others.

A major component of any program to serve students with autism includes direct support.  Briefly discussed in this publication are the following direct support strategies:

  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Targeted Instruction
  • Transition programming
  • Supported Living
  • Social programming and student empowerment

It is stipulated that the size of the population may dictate the degree or nature of such services.

It is suggested the individualized coaching/mentoring is one option.  It is hard to imagine a program without individualized coaching.  Each student presents a different constellation of autism issues as well as other anomalies.  A prescriptive program for some may be more appropriate for one student may not be appropriate for another.

Targeted instruction should then be tailored to meet individual needs and include but not be limited to focus on the above domain issues.  Transition programming is also discussed and may include instruction in navigating the college campus, independent living skills, communication processes in class and out of class, time management and other.  Again, it is difficult to imagine the negative effect on the retention of all students in the absence of a campus-wide initiative to provide all incoming students with such guidance.

Supported living is identified as a key component and includes attention to roommate placement, sensory integration issues, identification of independent living competencies, trained residential hall personnel and individual dialogue with such personnel.  The key issue is not to establish housing to isolate students but to provide a positive learning environment campus-wide.

Social programming is essential and could include the following:

  • Newly developed social skills applied in controlled settings
  • Dedicated space for social gatherings
  • Mentoring interaction with others on campus
  • Educating campus members on what to expect
  • ASD sponsored events; invitations to familiar peers

Student empowerment may involve

  • Effective decision-making strategies
  • Reciprocal, caring relationships
  • Strategic empowerment of parent sans the helicopter syndrome

The section on Identifying a Campus Response to Support Students with ASD presents a range of options with regard to program elements.  At the very least, it is suggested that a campus-wide task force be formulated to address the campus-wide needs.  In addition to addressing the campus-wide environment, the need to clearly establish the program within the campus structure is discussed.  There are also specific legal and ethical considerations beyond any particular office or department inherent in establishing such programs.

In addition, addressing issues of disclosure, especially from the students’ perspective is critical.  With regard to professional disclosure, faculty and staff need to become familiar with both FERPA(Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) as well as HIPPA(Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.  Without such critical knowledge, faculty and staff may inadvertently violate federal law, subjecting themselves to serious liability.  Students may be guided through role playing in how and when to provide disclosure.  Tools for disclosure should be provided.

Program admission criteria and intake is a complex process and should be based on best practices such as those employed by Mercyhurst University.  Other topics included in this section include the following:

  • How to respond to applicants who may not benefit from the program
  • Those attending but not in the program
  • Program staffing requirements (general discussion)
  • Program funding, i.e. because of the nature of the program, funding structures should differ from the typical academic funding processes
  • Evaluating Program Success (Program success must be measure differently than the typical academic program, i.e. use of qualitative case descriptions).

Included with this publication are planning worksheets which may assist institutions in implementing programs to serve students on the spectrum.

The publication is a valuable first read for college personnel who are in the initial stages of forming a program.  It is NOT designed as a comprehensive source for implementation and sustainability.

There are innumerable issues not addressed and these include but are not limited to the following:

  • While it is acknowledged that not all contexts are the same, the minimum resources, personnel and program elements are not clearly evident
  • A key faculty dilemma emerges from discussions with faculty leaders and takes the form of this question: I know what the the big picture is. . .but what do I do on that first day and in a given situation?
  • There are no specific program element protocols, e.g. communication strategy protocols for specific situations in class or out-of-class
  • There are no case descriptions included for students who have gone through a program with key elements and best practices

It may be a bit early to identify absolutes with regard to these additional “best practices.’   These questions and issues are still evolving in the field. That would be the logical next step in adding to the knowledge base for developing effective programs.  There are additional and valuable professional resources.  We will be reviewing these in the coming month.  I would strongly recommend that any institution at the beginning stages of developing a program to serve students on the spectrum carefully read this publication and make contact with the individuals listed from any of the cooperating institutions.

Respectfully submitted

James D. Riley, Ph.D.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How do I apply for the program?

Contact admissions office at Ancilla College

  1. What financial aid is possible?
  • External Scholarships
  • Indiana Department of Vocational Rehabilitation
  1. Will my credits be transferable to four year institutions?
  • Ancilla College has collaborative transfer advising relationships with over 20 institutions. Most Ancilla College courses will transfer unless the four year institution has special program or admission requirements.  Contact the Student Achievement Center for further information.  A list of the collaborating institutions is on the Ancilla College Transfer Pathway webpage.
  • Ancilla College has a special relationship with Mercyhurst University and is in the process of developing a collaborative transfer relationship.  As a four year institution, Mercyhurst has a model program for serving students on the spectrum (AIM-The Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst).
  1. What are living arrangements?

For 2017-2018, an on campus house has been provided.  Plans are being developed for expansion.

  1. What are the admission requirements?
  • Students must first be admitted to the college; admission to the APAC program is separate
  • Students must, at minimum, have a HS GPA of 3.00 and must also complete and pass a separate screening assessment; an interview with the Director of the APAC program; successfully complete a summer bridge program prior to their first semester (Beginning in the Fall of 2018).
  • Students must meet all other requirements for admission to Ancilla College
  1. What is a FAFSA?

Free Application for Federal Student Aid

  1. Is there a bridge program to help prepare me for college life?
  • Beginning in the summer of 2018, students will participate in a bridge program specifically designed to enhance their ability to successfully navigate the campus environment
  1. Who do I talk to about financial aid?