April 5, 2013

Autism Awareness: Learning the Spectrum

by Jordan Chapman

On April 2, 2013, the top of the Empire State Building was illuminated a brilliant blue. That same night the Sydney Opera House in Australia was blanketed with an azul hue and Canada’s Niagara Falls crashed with mesmerizing and ethereal light. 

Blue is April’s color, and Adelphi’s brown and gold is leading the way for its students, faculty and staff to celebrate National Autism Awareness Month. 

Generally characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors, the spectrum includes the autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder and Asperger syndrome.

National Autism Awareness Month

According to, in May 2013, the publication of the new DSM-5 diagnostic manual will merge types of autism into one umbrella diagnosis known as the autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Adelphi offers multiple resources to students who fall within the spectrum offering academic and social programs as well as opportunities to connect with professors who have gone through the same trials as they have. 

Enter the Bridges to Adelphi program, which provides students within all areas of the ASD the highest levels of individualized academic, social and vocational support. 

And the support they are providing leads to success. Mitch Nagler, LMHC, director of Bridges to Adelphi, reported that in the last four semesters the students within the program have achieved a 3.3 or higher GPA.

To be accepted into the program, students need only express interest in joining should they be accepted to Adelphi. The only difficulty that may arise is that space is limited. 

The program allows 60 students per semester, but will be increasing its student count in the coming semesters to help accommodate the demand, and it’s certainly there.

Today, one in 88 children and one in 54 boys are affected by a condition within the autism spectrum, and it’s encouraging that they are getting diagnosed earlier. Now, infants are identified as having some form of ASD as young as 18 months, which means they begin treatment at a much earlier age. “When these kids graduate high school, they are college ready,” Mr. Nagler said.

The individualization that Bridges to Adelphi brings is an important asset to it’s success. “We’re moving our students toward independence. We can’t just have them graduate and move back home,” Mr. Nagler explained, noting that their current push is to develop partnerships with companies who specialize in providing vocational and job placement opportunities to those with ASD.

One student who recently graduated from the anthropology program is returning for his masters and holds a job at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Another graduated with a computer science degree and works at a small information technology firm as a computer programmer.

“The classes aren’t modified. This is not special education, they write the same papers and take the same tests,” Mr. Nagler said. “These students are an important asset; they see and experience the world in a different way. We like people who see the world differently; that’s how change happens.” 

Adelphi Assistant Professor Stephen Shore, Ed.D., is a prominent example that autism is not a static diagnosis.

Diagnosed autistic at 18 months old and regaining his ability to speak at 4, Dr. Shore is now the author of Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome, 2nd Ed., coauthor of Understanding Autism for Dummies and editor and contributor of Ask and Tell: Self-Advocacy and Disclosure for People on the Autism Spectrum.

Dr. Shore feels strongly that each student at Adelphi is an individual and that it’s part of the job of an educator to determine each individuals learning styles. 

“With the technology and know-how we have today, the potential for people with special needs leading productive and fulfilling lives can become the rule, rather than the exception,” Dr. Shore said.

To help increase awareness and understanding of the strength and potential of individuals on the autism spectrum, the Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association (AHA) will hold its 13th Annual Spring Conference at Adelphi’s Ruth S. Harley University Center from 8:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. on April 20.

The event’s theme will tackle “Issues in Independent Living for Adolescents and Adults on the Autism Spectrum.”

Registration and more information on the event can be found at

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Adelphi University, New York, is a highly awarded, nationally ranked, powerfully connected doctoral research university dedicated to transforming students’ lives through small classes with world-class faculty, hands-on learning and innovative ways to support academic and career success. Adelphi offers exceptional liberal arts and sciences programs and professional training, with particular strength in our Core Four—Arts and Humanities, STEM and Social Sciences, the Business and Education Professions, and Health and Wellness.

Recognized as a Best College by U.S. News & World Report, Adelphi is Long Island’s oldest private coeducational university. It serves more than 8,100 students at its beautiful main campus in Garden City, New York—just 23 miles from New York City’s cultural and internship opportunities—and at dynamic learning hubs in Manhattan, the Hudson Valley and Suffolk County, as well as online.

More than 115,000 Adelphi graduates have gained the skills to thrive professionally as active, engaged citizens, making their mark on the University, their communities and the world.