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ASPartOfMe
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09 Aug 2022, 1:06 pm

First-of-its-kind law improves college access for students with autism, intellectual disabilities

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Massachusetts students with autism and significant intellectual disabilities will gain unprecedented access to postsecondary education at state colleges and universities under a law signed late last month by Governor Charlie Baker, lauded by disability rights advocates as the first of its kind in the nation.

More than a decade in the making, the breakthrough legislation will require all of the state’s public college campuses to offer accommodations to young people whose severe disabilities prevent them from earning a standard high school diploma, allowing them to take classes as nondegree-seeking students and join extracurricular activities alongside their peers — experiences that can transform their lives for the better, according to experts.

The law will create pathways for students whose intellectual challenges have often left them stuck in high school as their classmates graduated and moved on without them. Unable to pass the state MCAS exam or gain admission to college — and unlikely to thrive there without support — many students with Down syndrome, autism, and other conditions have instead languished in isolated classrooms, facing poor employment prospects and limited social options as they wait to age out of high school at age 22.

With expanded access to state campuses, some will now be able to transition to the next stage of learning, aided by more flexible options for meeting admission requirements and more assistance on campus if they are admitted. Individual campuses will determine their own criteria for acceptance and their capacity for such students, and schools should not face added costs, said Landau. The legislation includes $4 million for colleges to hire support staff and allows existing special education funding for individual students from school districts or state agencies to follow them to their new schools.

This is how it begins,” said Andrea Callahan, a longtime social worker whose son Max has autism. “It’s a generation of neurotypical college students, sitting next to students like Max in class and seeing what they come up with ... that will change their viewpoint.”

While the state’s total population of college-age young adults with serious intellectual disabilities and autism has been estimated in the past at 3,500 to 4,000, a smaller number are likely to seek college access under the new law, advocates said. Those admitted will improve their chances of employment: According to one national study of adults with intellectual disabilities, those who attended college were more than twice as likely to find paid employment as those who did not.

Existing state and federal laws already require equitable access to college for students with disabilities who can meet high school graduation and college entrance requirements. But because college is not a legal right, unlike K-12 education, those whose disabilities prevent them from meeting requirements could previously be excluded.

The more inclusive approach already has a track record in the state. Since 2007, a voluntary program has paired students with intellectual disabilities and their school districts with state campuses willing to enroll them; it served 220 young adults last year, according to Massachusetts Advocates for Children. Known as the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative, the effort provides grant money to colleges to help support students. Nearly half the state’s public campuses have participated.

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the program has had profound effects for students with intellectual challenges as well as their professors and nondisabled peers, participants and observers said.

For Max Callahan, a student with autism who enrolled at UMass Amherst in 2019, even routine experiences were thrilling, like sitting in the cafeteria at lunch and joining in discussions in his film and literature classes.

“I had been in special education groups where we were segregated, and it was hard to make your own choices,” said the 22-year-old, who now works as an alumni liaison at UMass. “This was a much more natural education experience, and it gave me more confidence.”

Another UMass student, Hannah Gold, assisted Callahan as a peer mentor and described the experience as transformative. Gold, a psychology and public health major who was once consumed by an unhealthy quest to be a “perfect” student, found an unexpected role model in Callahan, whose example helped Gold find perspective and self-acceptance.

“I used to feel shame about my shortcomings, and now I realize I can forge a different path and be an individual ... and that is just as valuable,” said Gold, who plans to work full time with the university’s inclusion initiative after graduation.

Faculty, too, gain fresh perspective from the presence of more diverse learners in their classrooms, said Lyndsey Nunes, director since 2012 of the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative at Westfield State University, which has enrolled more than 100 students.

“They often say they’ve become better professors, because they think more about different ways of learning,” she said.

Brian Heffernan, 31, traces his success back to his college experience. As a senior at Newton North High School, he saw his friends applying to colleges and longed to do the same. Heffernan, who has Down syndrome, tapped the state grant program to attend MassBay Community College, where he studied acting and communications, served in student government, and started a glee club.

A college internship taught him to advocate for disability rights and eventually led him to the State House, where he has worked in the offices of several legislators.

I can not agree with some of this. Making accommodations for people who are intelligent enough for college level work but whose disabilities/neurodivergence would under normal circumstances prohibit them from handling college is a good thing. But allowing people who are not intelligent enough to handle the work is lowering standards not accomidation.


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Pteranomom
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09 Aug 2022, 7:47 pm

ASPartOfMe wrote:
I can not agree with some of this. Making accommodations for people who are intelligent enough for college level work but whose disabilities/neurodivergence would under normal circumstances prohibit them from handling college is a good thing. But allowing people who are not intelligent enough to handle the work is lowering standards not accomidation.

As the article says, "allowing them to take classes as nondegree-seeking students and join extracurricular activities alongside their peers — experiences that can transform their lives for the better, according to experts."

So they don't get degrees. They can join clubs and attend classes and do the work if they feel like it, but their grades don't matter because they aren't getting a diploma. So it doesn't water down the value of other students' degrees.



kraftiekortie
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09 Aug 2022, 7:50 pm

I am under the impression that, should these students pass the remedial courses, that they will be able to go on to a "degreed" path.

If this is not so, I don't see this as being "groundbreaking."

I would always advocate for anybody in "special education," if possible, to seek to obtain the "regular" diploma, rather than the "IEP diploma." The IEP diploma means nothing, really.



DanielW
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09 Aug 2022, 9:04 pm

Are they also planning to waive tuition/fees? I don't see anyone paying for what will amount to a handful of nothing.



kraftiekortie
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10 Aug 2022, 9:14 am

If there's no "degree path" for a student, I don't see the use of that student being in college.

However, there could be certificate programs which at least some of these students could benefit from. Then, it would be worth it.

I am sure there are at least some students, admitted under a "disabled" banner, who can pass remedial courses and be able to start towards a degree. They should be encouraged to do this, if possible. Perhaps with "accommodations."

All that's required to receive a Bachelor's, usually, is a C average (2.0 GPA).



suekohnnn2
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21 Sep 2022, 10:32 am

Pteranomom wrote:
ASPartOfMe wrote:
I can not agree with some of this. Making accommodations for people who are intelligent enough for college level work but whose disabilities/neurodivergence would under normal circumstances prohibit them from handling college is a good thing. But allowing people who are not intelligent enough to handle the work is lowering standards not accomidation.

As the article says, "allowing them to take classes as nondegree-seeking students and join extracurricular activities alongside their peers — experiences that can transform their lives for the better, according to experts."

So they don't get degrees. They can join clubs and attend classes and do the work if they feel like it, but their grades don't matter because they aren't getting a diploma. So it doesn't water down the value of other students' degrees.

This law will become clear after it comes into force. Only in practice will its essence be understood. I study law often, using https://writix.com/essay-examples/law for this. Everyone needs to know the laws, they can help in the future. Ignorance of the laws does not relieve you of responsibility. So I advise everyone to learn.

I don't understand yet.



carlos55
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21 Sep 2022, 2:43 pm

In the UK there are foundation courses for those with more severe forms of autism ASD 2&3? / mild ID.

They teach basic living skills & usually follow on from special school after 19

To be honest since many are unlikely to live independently anyway, let alone find employment, it`s probably a government way of keeping them busy & off higher welfare payments for a bit longer to save money.


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