The Learning Independence for Empowerment Project is a program offered by Disabled Student Services that facilitates the autonomy of students with autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and other social cognitive deficits. Through this program, students with autism spectrum disorder learn to navigate the campus in a more efficient manner, acquire the skills necessary to successfully gain and retain employment and become comfortable in balancing a healthy social life.
College is a difficult transition for the majority of students. In their prior educational experiences, students with ASD, Asperger’s or any other disability attended mandatory annual meetings with school personnel and their parents in order to plan and discuss goals for their success. They were specifically asked what type of services they needed to complete their primary and secondary education. In postsecondary education, students are expected to advocate for themselves, determine their own goals and decide what accommodations they need to succeed. These students may or may not have acquired the tools necessary to navigate an unfamiliar territory.
The LIFE Project assists in all of these matters so that the students can have that extra assistance regarding their transition toward independence. Student interns and volunteers from a variety of educational backgrounds on campus, referred to as “peer coaches,” work with Disabled Student Services’ autism specialist to provide services for these students. The peer coaches assist in creating personalized coaching folders for each student regarding the student’s goals. These folders are used as a tool to help the students develop self-monitoring skills. The peer coaches also work one-on-one with the students outside of the group meetings on specific objectives, such as communication, socialization, time management, study habits and behavior management.
The LIFE Project has weekly group meetings where workshops and presentations are conducted in order to facilitate student independence. Some of these interventions include small talk clinics, mock workplace scenarios and presentations on subjects such as cognitive thought distortions, time management, money management, interview preparation and nutrition.