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Follow up: ‘Autism Goes To College’

graphic of a pink woman head with brain and documentary promo

Nearly two dozen of us ended our Wednesday, Oct. 13, by gathering on Zoom to watch the documentary, “Autism Goes To College,” followed by a discussion and q&a session with Kimberly Blackshear and Dr. Tara Chandrasekhar from Duke’s Neurodiversity Connections.

The film was moving and engaging and several were moved by the challenges and resilience – and possibilities — of the autistic teens as they embark on college life and transition to young adulthood.  (There’s also a related podcast for those who want to know more.)

John Herr hosted the talk and shared some of his major takeaways:

  • When we treat people with dignity and accept them when and how they come as opposed to exactly when and how we’d like, then we preserve a communal space open to all. Treating people with dignity is beneficial, and even efficient, for society as a whole, and is crucial for people with autism.
  • People on the autism spectrum are capable of living incredibly rich and active lives, and of managing multiple tasks and challenges, just like any of us. This is somewhat obvious in retrospect, but worth repeating as we reprogram our understanding of what it means to be autistic.
  • On campus resources are essential for the autistic community on campus.  We learned that bureaucratic red tape around getting resources can be problematic and that, ironically, those who most need resources related to advocacy and specialized learning plans can become so alienated from the process they give up.
  • Students who are on the spectrum may not even be aware of their diagnosis until they get to campus, and, in fact, many students receive their first diagnosis here at Duke.  Providing resources to these students means also helping them navigate a new self-understanding.  And it means doing that at the exact moment that they are away from the pre-existing support structures of family and friends from home.

Kimberly Blackshear emphasized that the problems don’t show up in the classroom, where many autistic students are gifted, but outside the classroom, in interpersonal spaces like dorm rooms and dining halls. I was reminded to be careful in choosing words when communicating with people on the autism spectrum who may take things more literally and become distressed by hyperbole or exaggeration.

It’s great that DiversifyIT can highlight all of our diversities, raising awareness and understanding to create a truly inclusive environment.

Join us for our next Brown Bag Lunch on Wednesday, Oct. 20, as we continue our Word of the Week discussions. We’ll discuss “white apathy” and our next Word of the Week, “white centering,” as defined in “Me & White Supremacy: Combat racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor,” by Layla F. Saad.

Join Zoom Meeting
https://duke.zoom.us/j/92516036566?pwd=MXJ0MFN5WW9Vc1RNSWNoeWRxWi94Zz09

Meeting ID: 925 1603 6566
Passcode: 830609