Shepherd University and the West Virginia Autism Training Center (WV-ATC), located at Marshall University, have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that establishes Shepherd as a WV-ATC campus-based satellite site that will provide services to Shepherd students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and training for faculty and staff through the College Program for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (CPSASD).

“We’re so excited about partnering with this project,” said Dr. Scott Beard, Shepherd provost. “Marshall has been a leader nationwide with this autism training center, and we know there’s a huge need in the surrounding counties for these support services, not just for the students themselves, but what’s going to be really important is the training for our faculty and staff so they have the tools to support these students so they can be successful.”

“Now that Shepherd will be a satellite campus, students with ASD in the Eastern Panhandle and surrounding areas have an option of staying closer to home to pursue their college degree,” said Dr. Virginia Hicks, Shepherd’s assistant provost for Academic Community Outreach. “We will work with the staff of the CPSASD at Marshall to provide individualized academic, social, and independent living support for Shepherd students who have applied and have been accepted into the program.”

Under the agreement, the WV-ATC will have a full-time student support specialist on Shepherd’s campus who will assist students enrolled in the program. WV-ATC will also conduct training for Shepherd faculty and staff, work closely with professors to support their instruction of specific students who are enrolled in the CPSASD program, provide clinical placement for undergraduate and graduate students interested in the field experience, and hire graduate assistants to support the program.

“The transition to adulthood, especially for students who are at risk, is really an overwhelming experience,” said Dr. Marc Ellison, WV-ATC executive director. “Universities have been working for years to figure out how to best support at-risk students. Because of things that have nothing to do with their intelligence, students with autism are perhaps the most at-risk in higher education these days.”

Before signing the MOU, Ellison pointed out that about half the students with autism across the country have average to above average intelligence, but have other significant problems that lead to unemployment or underemployment, and two-thirds live with parents the rest of their lives.

“A significant reason for that is improper, ineffective, or perhaps no support in higher education,” he said.

The WV-ATC was established in 1984 and has served nearly 3,000 families and more than 5,000 educators over the past 34 years. CPSASD was started in 2002 to provide skill-building and therapeutic support to students that will help them earn a college degree, work in their chosen field, and live a productive, independent, and quality life.

“We have the experience to support a program here at Shepherd,” said Dr. Rebecca Hansen, CPSASD director. “The program has a 94 percent track record of students who have graduated or are currently on track to graduate at Marshall University over 15 years, and I hope to be saying that about our Shepherd students. I’m thankful for the partnership.”

Hansen said during the spring 2019 semester, CPSASD will begin offering weekly Discovery Group meetings to help students learn about and practice a variety of skills and strategies related to the areas of academics, socialization, and independent living. In fall 2019, CPSASD will offer its full college program that includes individualized skill building and therapeutic support to degree-seeking students with ASD through a mentored environment.

Originally from Valerie Owens for Shepherd University News