Monday, October 31, 2016

Serving the Spectrum

This one is a shameless call for help.

I’ve heard multiple professors over the last few years say that the number of students in their classes who appear to be on the autism spectrum seems to be climbing.  But most professors have no training in ways to work with students on the spectrum.  With the number of affected students apparently climbing, the gap between what most of us are prepared for and what we need to be able to do keeps growing.

Students on the spectrum are part of the community, and deserve every chance to succeed.  But I’m concerned -- and the professors I’ve heard from share my concern -- that some of our standard pedagogical practices aren’t well designed to meet their needs.

I have no illusions about turning everyone into a psychologist or counselor.  That’s not the point.  But I’m guessing that a few basic adjustments, if they became common practice, would make a meaningful difference.  The problem is that I don’t know what those basic adjustments are.

Here’s where I turn to my wise and worldly readers for help.

Two questions.

First, are there resources for first-level professional development for college faculty at scale?  In other words, are there relatively straightforward techniques that work across disciplines to help college faculty work more effectively with students on the spectrum?  Again, anything that requires every professor to become an expert is a non-starter; I’m looking for some basics that might be helpful.  I’m thinking here of something akin to Universal Design for Learning.  Yes, it’s possible to become an expert in UDL, but it’s also possible to adopt a few basics -- caption your videos, leave the bottom third of a screen blank when using PowerPoint, don’t rely exclusively on color-coding -- that prevent unnecessary frustration.  Anyone who teaches can adopt those practices and make life easier for everyone.  Are there analagous practices to benefit students on the spectrum?

Second, and related, are there generally respected resources to draw upon?  Again, I’m not looking to make everyone an expert.  But if we can address some of the low-hanging fruit upfront, we can free up resources for more intensive interventions for the students who need it.

My goal here is to help faculty help their students, without easier blowing the budget wide open or expecting everyone to be a superhero.

Any help my readers can provide would be appreciated.  Thanks!