ATHENS, W.Va. — Students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder will soon have access to on-campus support at Concord University in Mercer County via a partnership with Marshall University’s West Virginia Autism Training Center which is expanding into Athens.

“The supports are individual,” said Dr. Marc Ellison, executive director of the West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University.

In 2002, the 1st support program in the U.S. for college students diagnosed with ASD was created at Marshall. Since then, the center has supported hundreds of students in Huntington with graduation goals.

Prior to that, Ellison said there was no such support at the college and university levels.

“There have always been, of course, people with autism in higher education and sometimes those folks graduated and did well but, the majority of the time, those folks probably did not do well,” he said.

“A lot of college isn’t as much about performing academically as it is socially, especially if you live on a campus.”

Many times, the social challenges and the independent living challenges are even more difficult than academics for people living with autism, Ellison said.

With the Marshall and and new Concord college programs, “It supports people academically, socially and in the independent living skill areas — teaching them those skills, mentoring them in those skills and helping take a lot of the stress and anxiety in those areas off,” he explained.

“While we’ve been helpful, I think, to other universities in the state and nationally to develop programs, it’s really a significant relationship with Concord to be able to be on their campus and working with West Virginians and people in their metro area to earn a college degree from Concord.”

Currently, those from Marshall are at Concord working with a small skills group.

Ahead of the 2017-2018 academic year, there will be an application process for the Concord on-campus support. Meetings to begin planning support for participating students could happen as early as February of next year.

“This isn’t the kind of program where we say, ‘This person needs time-and-a-half on a test.’ These are very individually-designed support programs. That means that we have to spend time before classes start getting to know people, understanding their needs and then helping translate those needs to faculty and staff,” Ellison said.

With the addition, Concord is joining a national movement to develop specialized, on-campus programs for students with autism.

“In this new partnership, Concord’s work with Marshall will help us to further develop the supportive environment, teaching skills and understanding necessary to help students to become successful in their goals of a college education,” said Dr. Kendra Boggess, president of Concord University, in a statement.

More information about the program is available online HERE or via phone at 304-696-2332.

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