The Office of Disability Services hosts Autism Week


Western Carolina University’s Office of Disability Services is sponsoring Autism Awareness Week , April 11-15.

On Monday students could register for the “light it up blue” Alpha Xi Delta 5K Race on the UC lawn. Tuesday was “wear blue day” where students were asked to wear blue in support of Autism. Wednesday was “college on the Autism Spectrum,” a lunch and learn workshop in the UC Multi-Purpose Room. Thursday is “Diversity Dialog with Autism” in the Killian Education Building room 102 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Finally, the “light it up blue” Alpha Xi Delta 5K Race will be on Friday on the Central Plaza of campus at 7 p.m. It costs 10 dollars to participate.

Meredith Oakley, a graduate student and intern for the Office of Disability Services has been a major part of putting the events together.

“We really wanted to make sure this was not just students or faculty and staff. We wanted to make sure this was an entire campus community event. We want to make sure people know how to work with students with autism. How do you work with them in a classroom, how do you work with them in a residence hall, how do campus police work with them,” Oakley said in an interview. 

Oakley worked for Residential Living and is now an intern for the Office of Disability Services.

Meredith Okley

Meredith Okley shows some of the posters developed for the Autism Awareness Week at WCU. Photo by Zane Perkins.

“After working in Residential Living for a semester I found out that I had a lot of students that had come to Disability Services. That’s when I decided that this would be a really good area to intern in because I am going to be working with these kinds of students my entire life as a higher education professional. This office has definitely helped me to learn how to communicate with students with disabilities and how to be sensitive to them and yet challenge them at the same time.”

In 2000 the number of children diagnosed with autism was 1 in 150. Fifteen years later that number has more than doubled with 1 in 69 kids being diagnosed with autism. A big question is whether or not colleges are doing enough to support students with Autism.

“This is a huge increase,” said Oakley. “There are now programs developing on college campuses that are paid for services that coach and give more specialized attention to students with autism so that they can come to a college campuses and get the extra support that they need to succeed so that they can have a better college experience. I hope that more of these will be coming to more college campuses but it requires funding to run those kinds of programs but there definitely is a need for it. Of course, there is always more to be done.”

Students with autism face many challenges when it comes to college life. They interact very differently than most. Socialization can be extremely difficult for them. Also, organizational skills can sometimes be a problem. Symptoms of autism can vary dramatically. There is a huge spectrum when it comes to people with autism. That is why it is called autism spectrum disorder. Some may not be able to hardly communicate at all while others may not have nearly as much difficulty communicating in public. 

“There is a famous quote that says when you meet one person with autism the next minute you meet a completely different person with autism,” explained Oakley. “ Sometimes it takes a little bit of extra compassion from professors, staff and even their friends to work with them to make things happen. Sometimes we may see someone and think that they are weird or awkward but we do not understand that it may be autism. You might be awkward with them because you don’t know how to interact with them. We are doing our best to make people aware of what autism is.”