Salem State’s Disability Center Helps Increased Caseload of Asperger Syndrome Students
Published: Thursday, December 8, 2011
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2011 09:12
Lisa Bibeau, director of Salem State University's Disability Center, sees each semester as a new opportunity to help incoming students with Asperger's Syndrome accommodate themselves into the university for their initial year. Registering with the Disability Center allows them to know they still have someone to go to when dealing with a socio-academic environment that they may not be used to yet.
Interacting with these students, particularly those with Asperger's, helps Bibeau grasp a more personal and less analytical view of what they are truly capable of on different levels pertaining to their emotional, social and academic goals.
"I look forward to the honesty in dealing with students who have Asperger Syndrome," said Bibeau. "They're so good with analyzing and coming to terms with those issues, and also working with me and the rest of the center to overcome them."
Currently, there are more than 500 students registered with the Disability Center, although only about 5 percent of them, or roughly 27 students, are diagnosed with Asperger's or another spectrum.
The increasing quantity of disabled students in general has made it difficult for Bibeau and her staff- consisting of three other individuals, including her associate Joseph Kelleher--to assist each and every one of them to the best of their ability.
"Last year, we had roughly 400 students registered with us, and 300 the year before that. With the small staff we have, the increasing caseload makes it more difficult to accommodate students. It's not usually the diagnosis that concerns me," said Bibeau.
Students with Asperger's are typically very bright in scientific and mathematical areas, and there's the rare case where they'll develop excellent verbal and writing skills, such as in essays, poetry, and even public speaking—an ironic notion given their usual social inhibitions.
According to David Hirsch from the "WebMD" website, Asperger's Syndrome is a pervasive development disorder named for the Austrian doctor Hans Asperger, who first documented it in 1944. However, people wouldn't learn much about Asperger's until the early 1980s due to it not being recognized as unique in comparison to typical autistic disorders.
This led to the development of the "autistic spectrum" in 1980 by the American Psychological Association who came up with it as a way to measure the range of a disability in terms of how it impairs an individual's social function and ability to communicate.
Those with Asperger's are not affected in terms of cognitive abilities and overall intelligence as much as those with regular autism, but still have a hard time behaving in social situations, reading non-verbal communication, and dealing with a narrow field of interests.
It is those issues that students with Asperger's need help with, particularly in a new social environment like that at Salem State, where they no longer rely on a close-knit groups of friends, counselors, or even their own parents. For the first time in their lives, they're on their own where they may not feel too comfortable in situations like a seemingly crowded classroom or a disruptive atmosphere, which they think might detract from their academic studies.
"We often talk with Asperger students about social issues on a basic level," Bibeau said. "Counseling is usually the better option, but we try and give students enough open space to settle themselves into a new social environment."
Offering accommodations such as time-and-a-half to work on exams or having a separate private testing room are just a couple of ways the Disability Center helps students with Asperger's balance out their academic and social issues. Bibeau, however, doesn't feel that students should feel that they have to go the Disability Center for every little thing.
That is the flip side of Asperger's students being on their own for the first time. They are making their own choices when it comes to both their academic and social pursuits, and utilizing tools such as the Disability Center only when absolutely necessary.
That's the point she and Kelleher try and stress to both current and new students with Asperger's at Salem State. They shouldn't have to think of the Disability Center as a crutch to lean on during the hard academic and social times, but rather as a friend they know they can rely on and go to when needing it the absolute most.