Adelphi University Creates Opportunity for Students with Autism

The “Bridges to Adelphi” Sensory Room

A study released by the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders last month shows that college students with autism spectrum disorder are struggling more than their typically developing peers, with higher dropout rates, as well as more loneliness, anxiety, and depression. The average college dropout rate for kids with autism is 80 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

For the past ten years, however, the Bridges to Adelphi Program at Adelphi University in Garden City offers “individualized comprehensive academic, social, and vocational services,” according to their website. The program is designed specifically for students who have autism spectrum disorder, nonverbal learning disability, or problems with executive functioning or socialization.

In 2007, the Adelphi program started with three students. Today, the program works with over 100 students with a collective 3.2 grade-point average and a 96 percent retention rate. The entire staff are Adelphi graduate and undergraduate students.

After years of studying the autism field, Mitch Nagler, program director, realized there was a need for these services with college students on the spectrum. “A lot of colleges didn’t want those kids on their campus, even though they were already there and failing out,” he said.

The program consists of four services: an academic coach, a learning strategist, a talking success group, and a vocational coach. Adelphi also has new a sensory room, designed to help students relax. The sensory room opened for the Spring 2018 semester and uses techniques such as dim lighting, a hammock, and water movements to create a soothing environment.

Another new and unique service has been offered since 2017. Northwell Health and Enterprise Rent-a-Car are two companies Adelphi has paired with where students can interview with both of them for a potential full time job once they graduate.

“Nobody gets the same academic or social services as anybody else,” said Nagler. We’re very flexible in trying to meet the students where they are and with what they need.”

“Autism greatly impacts many areas of development and college seems to hit upon so many of those areas all at once,” said Dr. Kristen Memoli, a clinical psychologist in Huntington, New York, who has been working in the field of autism for over 20 years.

“College is difficult to navigate for neurotypical individuals; for the first time in their lives they experience independence,” said Samantha Leigh Maietta, a licensed clinical social worker in Huntington, New York. “It is vital to set students up for success. If that means taking a year to learn executive functioning skills and build confidence in being independent, then so be it.”

“While other people are doing parts of what we do, nobody is doing everything that we do and nobody is doing it as well as we do it,” said Nagler.