In light of recent faculty and staff requests, two experts on autism visited campus on Wednesday for a series of meetings and presentations on how to best assist students with the disorder.
"There was an interest amongst faculty with students who may have Asperger's and how to best help them succeed academically," said Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Lesley Levy.
Dr. Jane Thierfeld Brown and Dr. Lorraine Wolf were brought to the College for a day of meetings and sessions entitled "Asperger's Syndrome and The College Setting."
Both Brown and Wolf are interested in Asperger's Syndrome, the mildest and highest functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. Together they are co-authors of the book "Students with Asperger's Syndrome: A Guide for College Professionals."
Brown and Wolf are members of The College Autism Spectrum (CAS), "an independent organization of professionals whose purpose is to assist students with autism spectrum disorders, and their families," according to its Web site.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills. ASD is 80 to 85 percent more common in males than females.
For some students with autism, attending college is their biggest test because it challenges them to thrive in an academic as well as a social setting. At Bowdoin, there are a number of students with autism, according to Levy.
The event series included a discussion of student affairs and professional development, lunch with faculty members, an open meeting for the faculty and staff and an open meeting for interested students.
"Being aware of all differences, whether they be physical or mental illnesses, cultural differences, language differences, or any others is especially important at a residential college like Bowdoin because chances are students, faculty, and staff will all be dealing with these differences every day," said Shamir Rivera '10.
Rivera co-leads Students Embracing Disabilities (SED) with her twin sister, Shalmai, who is also a senior. SED meets to discuss physical and mental disabilities on- and off-campus and to raise awareness about disabilities at Bowdoin.
As members of the Residential Life staff, "learning to deal with student differences is part of our training," said Rivera.
Before arriving to Bowdoin, students with disabilities have the option to fill out a request form for accommodations.
"There are other benefits to disclosing a disability to the College," said Levy. "So we can provide the best support for those students."
Despite the social and academic challenges students with varying degrees of autism face, Wolf said that they can be successful.
"The journey may require more experience and preparation," she said.
Some autistic students prefer to live in singles after their first year because they don't feel socially fit or simply because they want privacy. The Office of Residential Life makes efforts to accommodate such requests, however no formal process is in place.
"A student with more severe autism may really need a single room because some of their compulsion and anxieties and social differences," said Levy.
Wednesday's events were sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, Counseling Services, Residential Life, Student Health Services, SED, and the Center for Learning and Teaching.
"Because we are all interested in the topic and it may have implications for our work with students, the directors of the programs in the Center [for Learning and Teaching] agreed to co-sponsor the event," wrote Director of the Writing Project Kathleen O'Connor in an e-mail to the Orient.
"Being mindful that differences exist among everyone can make the college experience more enjoyable, and we can even learn from each other's differences," said Rivera.
"I hope there will be more programs to build awareness," said Levy.