College Internship Program

Stephen Shore


Imagine going through school being told that there are a lot of things wrong with you and that there are a lot of things you have to “fix” before joining the “regular” students. While you may have been good at math, computers, or some other subject, there were most likely other areas where you were a complete flop. Perhaps it was physical education. Or maybe the chaos of lunch and recess were too much for you to bear.

In addition to damaging one’s self-esteem, experiences like these put the idea of continuing one’s education after grade school in a negative light. These where some of the factors that went into the College Internship Program (www.collegeinternshipprogram.com), which I have been involved in developing along with Michael McManmon. I am happy to report that it is about to open a fourth location in the United States.

Typical Challenges for Individuals on the Spectrum in the Postsecondary Setting
For some people with Asperger Syndrome and high-functioning autism, the college or university experience can be a utopia. The daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly routines of higher education can be reassuring and provide the structure that people on the autism spectrum tend to crave and need. Additionally, with greater maturity, fellow students tend to be more interested in who a person is rather how much he is like someone else in the more conformist environment of grade school. For me, bullying and teasing fell away and were replaced by friendship and camaraderie. For example, if I wanted to ride my bicycle at midnight I could find someone just as “strange” as I was to go with me.

However, there are many challenges beyond academic ones that can pose difficulties for everybody attending college, but particularly for those with autism spectrum disorders. For example, how does one learn the skills needed to get along with others, such as roommates, making friends, and being appropriate at parties, and other social functions? What goes into developing proper study skills, scheduling, and time management when it comes to balancing day-to-day requirements with due dates for long-term assignments. Other areas of challenge include sticking to a budget, proper nutrition, physical exercise, setting priorities, and managing free time.

The Reframing Process and Other Areas of Asperger Education
To help prepare and support students with autism spectrum disorders, one of the key elements of the College Internship Program is a reframing process developed by Michael McManmon and myself. The goal of this exercise is to thoroughly examine one’s strengths and challenges as a way of developing greater self-awareness, understanding, and an appreciation for one’s Asperger characteristics as a different rather than a disordered way of being.

The program also addresses developing greater awareness for interpreting interactions with others, such as discussed in the Hidden Curriculum (Myles, Trautman, & Schelvan, 2004). This is important as the rules of social interaction mystify so many of us with Asperger Syndrome, causing us to be social outcasts.

Hidden Curriculum
Other components of the program designed to lead to greater self-awareness is an introductory course on Asperger Syndrome and one on the ever-present sensory issues. Additionally, educational support is provided for successfully meeting the challenges of interdependent living, such as budgeting, keeping one’s home clean, cooking, time and money management, as well as interfacing with the disabilities office at the nearby college or university.

The program is not just for people wanting to go on to higher education. For individuals on the autism spectrum desiring a work, rather than a college, experience, the College Internship Program provides most of the same services modified, as appropriate, for success in the work environment.

The College Internship Program is currently available in Lee, MA, Melbourne, FL, Bloomington, IN, and, as mentioned, a fourth center is scheduled to open in Fall of 2007 in northern California. For more information about how this program addresses these and more challenges, see the College Internship Program website, www.collegeinternshipprogram.com.

My time with the students, and staff at the College Internship Program has made me realize that it is one of the most comprehensive services in the world devoted to helping people with Asperger Syndrome and high-functioning autism learn to flourish in higher education or work as they go on to lead fulfilling and productive lives using their strengths – just like everyone else.


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