Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You might remember this letter that I wrote to the vice president of student life at my former college. I went to a small, private, Christian college in Western Pennsylvania. It's extremely academically-focused, and students there can be a little over thee top when it comes to achievement and success. Sometimes, I think they all need a reminder that grades don't get you into heaven. But that's for another post.

I've spent the past week (yes, almost an entire week) with Leigh at the school. The #1 reason I went up was to do our secret Santa gift exchange from Christmas. I was upset while in the hospital and Leigh suggested that I come up to do Christmas with her and her roommates. It really gave me something to look forward to. The #2 reason I went was to sit down with the VP of student life about my letter.

So on Thursday afternoon as I waited outside his office, I was nervous. I can do fairly well at talking for short periods of time, but I wear out and start staring off into space pretty quickly. My eye contact has gotten better, but only for a little bit at a time, and then I just have to stop. I had told him that I have autism, but I was still nervous about what he expected from me. I don't like to "pull the autism card" and lower people's expectations of me, but I'm also trying not to be ashamed of it. It's such a fine balance.

It turns out that I didn't need to be nervous at all. Mr. H was welcoming and caring. We talked for almost an hour. Some of the things we discussed in that time:

1. Before Mr. H came to campus two years ago, there was really no plan in place for students with disabilities. Since then, he has developed a policy in which the student in question provides a doctor's documentation with suggested accommodations, sits down with Student Life and discusses which ones the student wants to implement in which classes, Student Life sends an e-mail to each of the student's professors with the accommodations (not the diagnosis), and the student discusses with each professor indivudally to figure out how the accommodations will work in each class.

2. Mr. H has also developed a "freshman packet" to send to students the summer before their freshman year. This packet includes a section on students with disabilities and the appropriate steps to take.

3. The student handbook now includes a section on disabilities, listing the policy and who to contact if the student wants to pursue this.

4. There are 80 students just with learning disablities on campus. This is out of something like 2300 students. This is a much higher percentage than I (or anyone, I think) expected. Most of them (44) do not receive any accommodations. Those who do are typically very quiet about it, because of the academic competition on campus. They're afraid that other students will perceive them as getting an advantage when it comes to grades.

5. Mr. H agrees that my situation with student teaching was not handled correctly. He is going to talk to the department chair about what happened versus what should have happened.

6. He agrees that faculty and the counseling center need to be more aware of how to handle students with disabilities. He recently held a lecture on students with disabilities for faculty, but it wasn't well-received. He is going to add a section to the faculty handbook to explain the policy and continue to think of a way to draw attention to this so that another student doesn't fall through the cracks. He said that my situation was "unacceptable" and "a shame."

I feel much better having sat down and spoken with him. I'm confident that he will truly follow through on the things he said he would do. I'm not very familiar with the higher-ups at the school, but if the College regularly hires people like Mr. H, then we're all in good hands.


  1. Well done for going and talking this through with Mr H. By giving your side of the circumstances can only help him become (even) better. Keep fighting for your corner because you deserve it as much as anyone else. You are in a strong position because you can articulate your thoughts, even if you do find it hard at times or for a sustained amount of time. However, you can only become better at it as time goes on.

  2. Good on Mr H and you.

    Like the 6 points. 80 students with learning disabilities.

    Hope you had a good Christmas exchange with Leigh and the roommates.