GVSU program recognized for helping students with autism

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ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Valley State University was nationally recognized for its efforts to help students with autism transition into college.

GVSU was among 10 colleges nationwide chosen by Friendship Circle, a non-profit that provides support to thousands of people with special needs. Grand Valley was ranked second on the list for its Campus Links program which provides support for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Holly Miller, a fifth-year senior at GVSU majoring in Chinese Studies, said she probably couldn’t have lived on campus her freshman year because of sensory issues associated with ASD.

“If it wasn’t for the Campus Links program I probably wouldn’t be here at Grand Valley,” she said.

Miller explained that the program allowed her to step out of her comfort zone on the Allendale campus, but it also gave her the confidence to enroll in a study abroad program.

She studied at East China Normal University for a few weeks in the summer.

“There’s a lot of people that I know that have a full potential to go to college after high school that are autistic,” Miller said. “I’m hoping to encourage anyone to go abroad despite people telling them that they shouldn’t go.”

The GVSU Office of Disability Support Resources paired Miller with a mentor when she was a freshman and sophomore. She said the routine check-in meetings were a huge help, especially since she was living away from home with a roommate for the first time.

“I was able to do things on my own,” explained Miller. “I was able to learn how to take the bus. I was able to get a job on campus and didn’t really need mom and dad’s help.”

Shontaye Witcher, director of Disability Support Resources at GVSU, said she’s excited to see the Campus Links program receive national attention.

She explained that the program is application-based and added that independence and future success is the goal for the students they serve.

“Holly is one example of that — a good example — of being motivated, to be independent, and to also complete graduation,” Witcher said.

Witcher said Campus Links works with parents, professors, and on-campus employers in addition to work with students with ASD.

Miller earned a competitive international study abroad scholarship, the Benjamin A. Gilman scholarship, to support her summer learning experience in China. She will give a campus presentation about her trip Tuesday evening on campus called “Conquering China: Autism Style.”

After she graduates in April, Miller will begin a 2-year grad school program at East China Normal University where plans to study politics.

—————Online:Friendship CircleCampus Links program

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