I can still see the tears rolling down my wife’s face when the psychologist said, “Your son has autism.” That scene occurred over two years ago, yet I just broke down in my office as I pictured it. Actually, I’ve broken down a lot over the last two years: I broke down when I realized my son wasn’t getting invited to birthday parties attended by all his other classmates. I broke down when my son was suspended from kindergarten because of behaviors he couldn’t control. I broke down when my search of 15 years’ worth of articles in higher education’s top research journals produced not a single mention of autism.
That’s a problem. A BIG problem.
My breakdown after that literature search helped me recognize the potential for convergence between my personal interests and my academic expertise. Since then, I have sharpened my scholarly focus to examine the systemic, institutional, and personal conditions that shape college access, experiences, and outcomes for students on the autism spectrum.
Nonetheless, although I make my living as a professor in a major research university, I am not so naïve to think that writing a few journal articles will substantially improve college experiences and outcomes for autistic students – for at least 5 reasons:
- Data collection and analyses can take years to complete.
- The peer-review publication process can be even slower.
- Journal articles are often written using jargon that is incomprehensible to even a well-educated general public.
- Most academic readers are more apt to critique a study’s methods than to act on the study’s findings.
- Institutions of higher education, and the people who work in them, are notoriously resistant to change.
To really improve college access, experiences, and outcomes for students on the autism spectrum, we’re going to need to do more than just study the topic. We need to build a network of wide-ranging stakeholders committed to change at many levels. We need to amplify the voices of students on the spectrum. We need to provide guidance to the instructors and administrators who work with these students, both within K-12 and Higher Education.
And that’s what the College Autism Network is all about.