New group for students with autism

Photo by Tyler Searle

Ashley Ludlow with a jar that was made in her ASD group.

Students on the autism spectrum looking for an excuse to socialize might enjoy a new program provided by the Access and Support Centre at Durham College.

The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Living Learning Community was established at the beginning of the fall semester. It was formed as another way to accommodate the growing ASD community at Durham College and UOIT over the last several years.

“I think it’s important to let students on the spectrum know that they are not alone, especially first year students.” said Ashley Ludlow, head of the ASD Living Learning Community, and accessibility coach at the Access and Support Centre.

In 2009, Ludlow said there were fewer than 20 students on the autism spectrum who registered with the support centre. By 2015, that number had grown to more than 100 members.

The Living Learning Community meets every Wednesday evening from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. The overall purpose of the group is to help develop social networking skills, baking skills in the South Village residence kitchen, and general wellness through stress relief and social interactions in a patient and reassuring environment. Student Academic Learning Services (SALS) also works with any group members who wish to develop college-related skills, such as time management and academics.

“I think a lot of students need to know when to ask for help,” said Ludlow. “It doesn’t make you a bad student… be prepared and be proactive, know when to ask for help and know how to access it.”

Currently six students regularly attend every group meeting, though there are others who attend if the subject matter interests them.

“I look for a lot of feedback from the group to see what they want,” said Ludlow. “If they want stress relief then we’ll make activities around stress relief. If they want social interaction, we’ll play games and watch Netflix.”

Ludlow explained that people with autism can suffer from a number of social issues, including repetitive behaviour and impacted behaviour skills. Because of this, it can be a stressful time for them to complete their school work and socialize with others.

“Some of us have a specific area or topic we are most comfortable talking about, but often have trouble knowing when to stop talking about it, or if the other people aren’t interested,” said a student who attends the ASD group, who requested anonymity. “Also approaching people – even just for school-related stuff at times – can be hard, and this group helps, as we are doing things together and can talk at our own paces on top of learning skills.”

Because the Living Learning Community is open to any ASD student, it can serve as both a transitional environment for new students jumping into post-secondary, and a networking platform where students from different programs can congregate. Many of the skills developed through the group are also geared to helping students live on their own, regardless if they are currently in residence or living with their families.

In the end, Ludlow encourages her attendees to use the group however they see fit and at their own pace.

“The important thing is to work with each student,” said Ludlow. “Not every student on the spectrum has the same needs.”

Any students interested in joining must register through the Access and Support Centre for Durham College, or the Student Accessibility Services for UOIT.

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Tyler Searle is a second year journalism: web and print student at Durham College. His work primarily focuses on film, television, books, and games, though he also writes stories about local businesses and groups. Outside of school, Tyler reads fantasy books and spending time with his family. He hopes to use the skills he's amassed to become a writer for films, books, television, or video games.