Ramapo College Listed among Nation’s Best Small Colleges for Students on the Autism Spectrum
Ramapo College of New Jersey has been identified as one of the best small colleges in the nation – and the only New Jersey institution – for students on the Autism Spectrum, according to AppliedBehaviorAnalysisPrograms.com. The website, whose mission is to provide expert guidance about the top universities helping students reach their career goals and become board certified, selected 30 schools with fewer than 10,000 students that exhibited “autism friendliness” and strive to make their campus safe and comfortable for all students.
“We are thrilled to be included in this list,” said Suzanne Calgi, LCSW, coordinator of Ramapo College’s ENHANCE Program, a therapeutic support program which takes a holistic approach and focuses on social, emotional and organizational growth to assist those students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in adapting and flourishing in college and beyond. “We saw a need and created a program that fosters social inclusion, emotional and therapeutic growth and skill building to assist our students both in transitioning to college and having a college experience.”
Since its inception in 2018, ENHANCE offers additional services and resources to support our students over and above what is required under current disability law. “It continues Ramapo’s mission of providing individualized attention for students. Students have a point of contact and a place to go when they need assistance.”
Ramapo College has long been at the forefront of supporting students with learning differences and the ENHANCE program is an exciting opportunity intended to help new students transition from high school to college and keep current students academically and socially engaged in order to maximize their college experience.
According to Applied Behavior Analysis, there are an estimated 1.8 million to 2.6 million current college students with autism, many of whom cannot attend large universities mostly because the school is “just too big and overwhelming.” In compiling its list, the organization considered the following factors:
- Size: Schools with a student population of 10,000 or fewer
- Specialized Programs: Colleges and universities which offer support and resources specific to students on the Autism Spectrum
- Overall Autism Friendliness: Additional examples of “autism friendliness,” such as buddy systems, special housing accommodations, and events designed to bring all students together
- Scholarships and Financial Support: Scholarships specifically for students on the Autism Spectrum
- The “It” Factor: Other offerings notable for students with autism including autism-related research programs, courses on autism, schools founded specifically as a place for those with learning differences, etc.
Ramapo’s ENHANCE Program consists of individualized weekly appointments with a counselor; weekly group meetings for peer support; students to be paired with trained peer mentors; social events; and parent consultations. Through these components, the ENHANCE Program strives to provide students with individually tailored support resources.
To learn more about Ramapo College’s ENHANCE program, visit www.ramapo.edu/enhance/
ENHANCE Gives Students an Added Boost
Entering college can be a challenge for most students. But for those who are on the spectrum, a college environment can often present a unique set of hurdles.
Ramapo College’s new ENHANCE program is designed to help students with ASD to transition successfully from high school to college. Another goal is to keep current students academically and socially engaged so that they can fully enjoy their college experience.
“ENHANCE was created because the number of Ramapo students who identified as having ASD has increased by more than 800 percent over the past seven years,” says Suzanne Calgi, a psychological counselor and coordinator for ENHANCE. “And while many of these students excel academically, they often have a deficit in social communication.”
A therapeutic support program, ENHANCE’s holistic approach focuses on social, emotional, and organizational growth to assist students on the spectrum to adapt and flourish in college and beyond.
“We individualize the program to meet each student’s needs,” explains Calgi. “I am a therapist. It is through talking to students and getting
their stories that I begin to understand if they are suffering from anxiety, or having difficulty communicating with people. I also discover what has kept them from achieving in the past and what keeps them from making friends. Then I hone in on those issues and help to resolve them.”
Each student has a weekly appointment with Calgi to discuss their needs and to work on individualized goals. If needed, a student may request additional weekly sessions.
“Parent contact is a part of our program,” she adds. “I encourage my students to sign a release that will allow me to speak to their parents and most students do sign the release.”
Calgi also facilitates group meetings for students with the College’s Office of Specialized Services. “At those meetings we ask students for topics they are interested in discussing and that are relevant to them, such as friendships, dating, social media, texting, college stress, life stress, effective communication with college personal, life skills and independence,” she says. “Through these meetings the students get support not only from us, but also from each other.”
Another unique component of the program is its peer mentors, undergraduates who volunteer to work with ENHANCE students.
“The goal of the peer mentors is to help ENHANCE students to integrate into the campus,” says Calgi.
She trains peer mentors on the basics of the autism spectrum, what things to look for, what issues might come up, and she makes sure they understand that each student is unique. “The peer mentors receive four hours of training before they meet their peers, and then we have a weekly meeting where we discuss what is happening with the students. If an issue arises, mentors know that they can call me anytime.”
A peer mentor will then meet with their ENHANCE student several times each week to eat lunch or just relax at one of the student gathering spots.
“We’ve noticed that our students tend to be very good academically, but the social aspects of campus life might be more difficult for them, so they often isolate themselves,” says Calgi. “A peer mentor can often ease a student entry into the larger student community.”
Peer mentors also introduce ENHANCE students to the various student organizations and if necessary will accompany them to a meeting. They create a bridge to campus activities and help the students to connect with other club members. Peers also help plan and lead weekend social events. In addition, they review the campus events lists, select the ones that might appeal to ENHANCE students, and offer to accompany them to those events.
“ENHANCE is in line with Ramapo’s strategic goal of creating a supportive environment for all, with particular consideration for underrepresented groups and we do consider students with disabilities to be underrepresented,” says Calgi.
“I see ENHANCE expanding in the coming years.”