Wednesday, April 29, 2009

College students mentor young adults with autism

From The Towerlight, the student newspaper at Towson University:

In some cases, a lot of college students spend their Sundays sleeping-in after a Saturday night out. But this week, a group of 10 student mentors spent an afternoon with young adults with autism.

The young adults came to TU to participate in the Autism Challenge Course sponsored by the Center for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder from surrounding areas like Baltimore and Bethesda.

“The idea is for these folks to learn social communication skills, social interaction skills and to do it in a formal environment,” Karen Pottash, speech language clinical administrator, said. Pottash is the challenge course’s on-site supervisor.

The program, which took place in the Glen Woods, consisted of a series of activities in order to enhance participants’ social skills. For all activities, the mentors and their mentees were broken up into a black team and a gold team.

“These programs help the participants learn communication, leadership, and [how to] work together,” graduate assistant for Campus Recreational Services, Lindsey Giles, said. One game, called “Island,” encouraged participants to travel across a series of platforms without touching “the lava.”

Communication and leadership were key objectives, according to Giles.

Justin Williams, 23, was the leader of his group for the “Island” activity. He decided when people would approach land, in what order and how they would go about it. His mother, Claudette Williams, wanted her son to participate so he can socialize with others. He hasn’t been involved with any social groups since he graduated high school, according to Claudette.

According to Claudette, Justin wants to take college classes and this course is allowing his mother to determine if he’s ready to hold his attention for a period of time.

“I liked working together and being the leader,” Justin said.

Sarah Camponeschi, a speech pathology graduate student, was Justin’s mentor. She’s worked with children with autism but wanted to see what it would be like to work with young adults.

Freshman psychology major Emily Snyder has never experienced working with children or adults with autism.

“I didn’t know what to expect, which was better for me,” she said, “Because there were no pre-judgments [of how things would be].”

Pottash said at the beginning of the afternoon that it was everyone’s goal to meet at least one new person and know at least two things about him or her. Daniel Hecht, 21 and Snyder’s mentee, fulfilled his goal. He became friends with Justin.

“He was very nice,” Hecht said.