Young adults with disabilities, who have transitioned into college or other post-secondary educational programs, face the same challenges that the typical college freshman faces when the reality of being responsible for him or herself hits home. The challenges that students face today as they pursue their educational dreams are not only academic-related, but also associated to daily living, money management, time management, social interactions, relationships, networking, community integration, and many more. In this special population of young adults, there is an overwhelming amount of talent, academic success and intelligence. Many of these individuals who pursue an academic degree, are highly successful when it comes to the course work, and possess a great ability to succeed and contribute in their fields. The students are engaged in various degree programs including Engineering, S.T.E.M. Education, Leadership, Health, Business and many more fields of study. However, at times, the road-map of “university life” is challenging due to the plethora of new information, fluctuating prospects, social requirements, peer communication, and learning differences to name a few.
The HDS Mentors Program seeks to identify the peripheral needs of students with ASD-related disabilities, who are seeking a college degree, and living on campus. Although the HDS Mentors Program does not focus specifically on academic course requirements mandated by the university or college, it does focus on the guidance and supports needed by these individuals to achieve great success in each of their academic fields. This is done in a variety of ways, including by recognizing the social and emotional challenges that can interfere with academic learning, and creating viable daily activities that mitigate those circumstances and help these students build strong interpersonal skills. It further explores the contributions these students can make to perhaps become the catalyst of change needed in our society to adapt to differences in learning styles, career structures, and social relationships.
Peer collaboration is one of the most effective tools available to facilitate the learning process, and navigation of social demands. The opportunities for growth through collaboration with individuals who are in your own age-group, who share similar experiences and challenges, and who have different skill sets and ideas is greatly beneficial to this population. All involved benefit greatly from the experience, and grow exponentially in their problem solving abilities. As Albert Einstein said “Today’s problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them” and “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”.