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Making College More Accessible Post-COVID: How Virtual Classrooms Can Help Autistic Students

The COVID-19 pandemic is uncontained and continues to spread around the world, forcing millions of college students to attend classes remotely.While they have I had a hard time adapting In this new learning mode, this format can offer unique benefits to autistic students who can be employed to build a college after a pandemic. More accessible.

Many of the difficulties faced by college students with autism may not be obvious to “neurotypical” or the person. Neurocognition is within the main social criteria of “normal”. Most notably among them, neurotypical development does not suppress its own neurology and tendency to adapt. It is adopted by people with autism to varying degrees. masking Also camouflage..

“It’s like living your life with a flow chart in your head. You can never do normal things.” Morenike Giwa Onaiwu, Autism advocates, university professors, and doctoral candidates. “People with neurotypicals want to think that everyone thinks and acts in their own way. If you’re different, something is wrong.”

A common example of masking is StimulationOr repetitive behaviors and / or body movements. Everyone’s stimulation Playing with your own hair, forcibly clicking on a pen, or biting your nails are all forms of stimulation. However, for people with autism, one of the main functions of the stimulus is the self-regulation required for navigation. Overwhelming world.. Unfortunately, some of the ways many autistic people stimulate, such as flapping, fidgeting, and shaking, are very stigmatized. Maverick *, an undergraduate student at the University of Kentucky, explains: [before I realized I was autistic between fifth and sixth grade]My urge to inspire will keep them away from future partners, friends, or the work I had. Like Maverick, Boston Undergraduate, Caralynn, Having a similar experience of growing up, I learned to wear a mask before being diagnosed with autism at the age of 13.

Masking is especially prevalent among women with autism. mask Much more than men with autism. It ’s Dr. Amy Edwards, Drexel Autism Support Program (DASP), Often witnesses. “Girls have the property that lizards and chameleons can change their skin, but boys behave outwardly and negatively to attract attention.”

It also partially explains why women are much less likely to be diagnosed with autism – by successfully imitating their neurotypical companions. Without being diagnosed Therefore, historically it does not meet the standard criteria for autism and is suffering in silence. Predefined Depending on how an autistic man behaves and thinks. This was true of Giwaonaiwoo, who showed many characteristics of autism as a child, but was not diagnosed until she was much older. She said, “I didn’t like Thomas on the train. I wasn’t a programmer. And I didn’t have savant skills …. Some of the things that people with autism seem to be good at – programming, STEM – didn’t apply to me at all. ”

Moreover, Current autism research Since then there are restrictions Usually excluded Non-binary, trance, and other autistic individuals who do not stick to binary gender identity Transgender and gender-diversified people are up to 6 times more likely to have autism. How race affects masking is an important topic that has not yet been fully studied.For example, color autism, especially Black autism, interaction with policeDue to systematic racism, they can be mistakenly perceived as dangerous. Coupled with often autistic behavior Misunderstood by the policeMasking reduces the chances of a conflict escalating to police atrocities.

Even if masking makes life easier, having to pretend to be someone else can be exhausting. Before Helen Lottier, a graduate student of autism at the University of Illinois at Chicago, learned that she had autism in college, her mental health deteriorated significantly. She is currently studying and studying access to education for people with disabilities and neurodiversity college students, and although not in a particular focus, masking occurs frequently in her work. “Many students share [their experiences] If you need to give a presentation about masking, or lead a class discussion, this will affect them in the following ways: [their] The energy of the second half of the day, and [in their] Mood. ”

But strangely, virtual learning offers some opportunities for autistic people who refrain from masking because it is more accessible and less exhausting. “Some of them are relaxing [and] They don’t mask that much. Others like the fact that the camera can be turned off and you don’t have to worry about irritation. I think it’s up to the students, “says Edwards. Previously, students had to worry about everything before entering the class. It’s like getting ready to leave the dorm, taking classes on time, or hitting someone who causes anxiety without knowing what to say.

Of course, virtual learning in a pandemic is very different from normal virtual learning.Sudden switch to virtual learning is significant Confused Autistic student routines and pandemics Deteriorated Anxiety and depression in people who are already autistic 4 times more likely Depression compared to people with non-autism. And for those returning home, the social life they worked very hard to build in college is suffering.

The university I had before Not doing enough To accommodate students with disabilities, even though Americans with Disabilities Act requires higher education to provide equal access. No Added access to virtual learning. Platforms like Zoom Have been criticized I’m currently zooming, so I can’t access it Only offered Closed captions for paid Zoom Pro members.Virtual supervision software used to prevent fraud May harm students with disabilitiesBecause living as a disabled person, the software can inadvertently label them suspicious. And most importantly, a person with autism is not a monolith, so working for one person with autism may not work for another.

Despite these flaws, people with disabilities Worried Especially about what happens to virtual learning after the pandemic is controlled, especially since they requested distance learning options many years ago. “People have forever sought this type of accommodation, and everyone said it was too complicated and expensive, and when they needed it, they could suddenly do it. Masu. People shouldn’t have taken an emergency on how to train their staff [use] These tools.That’s what you need to have

Just like humans, “Giwu Onaiwu added, adding that students should not be responsible for fighting for legally qualified accommodation. “The fact that these online venues have a powerful ability to add so many accesses can be very ironic, but many of these possibilities are ignored,” continued Maverick. rice field.

Still, making college accessible to people with autism not only helps them, but also Universal designCreate an environment that anyone can access, understand, and use, regardless of age, size, or disability. For example, on the first day of class, Giwu Onaiwu emphasized to students that tools such as text-to-speech software can help students with disabilities as well as hearing learners or non-disabled students who need multitasking. Did. Lottier also enthusiastically supports Universal Design, and accommodations such as recordings of her lectures will be of great help to students like her dealing with chronic pain, she said. Caralynn also suggested that normalization of activities that would allow for more breaks and more processing time would be more helpful than students with autism.

Beyond these universal interests, pandemics provide an opportunity to better understand the challenges faced by people with autism. April, autism writer Maxfield Sparrow Insisted Neurotypes who regularly use video streaming platforms like Zoom experience the social fatigue experienced by people with autism.

All of these are important issues for neurotypical contemplation. More people With a better understanding of autism, it is being diagnosed more than ever.

* This is a pseudonym


Katrina Yanko

About the author: Katrina Yanko Accessibility of Loreen Arbus is a basic programThe first fellowship established to train women with disabilities as professional journalists and to be able to write, investigate and report on the most important issues affecting the disabled community.

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