Ariel University Helps Students Overcome Autism
Udi, a graduate of Ariel University, never dreamed he’d be able to address a crowd. When he was young, he was diagnosed with autism, a developmental disorder that affects an individual’s ability to interact socially and communicate with others.
At 24, in his third year at Ariel University, Udi surprised even himself by addressing visitors to the school, telling them with poise and confidence about the program that helped him discover his powers of communication.
“I never thought I’d get to go to university,” he said. Today, he works at the school on projects related to the environment.
Udi took part in Ariel University’s one-of-a-kind program that began in 2008 with only two students and is designed to integrate students with pervasive developmental disorders, such as autism and Asperger syndrome, into its academic departments so that they can earn university degrees and enter the workforce as productive, skilled members of society. The program is operated by the university’s Student Services Center under the auspices of the Department of Communication Disorders.
As part of the program, Udi was assigned a “buddy” named Sahar, who lived with him in the dormitory. The dormmate aspect gives autistic students a comfortable, welcoming opportunity to meet and interact with others and participate in campus life. Udi and Sahar maintained the dorm room together, cooked together, and hung out on the lawns of the university.
“I’m the one who got the most from this,” Sahar said of the experience. A student in the university’s physical therapy program, Sahar said he gained a true friend and a profound sense of satisfaction from raising awareness about autism on the college campus.
Today about 30 students on the autistic spectrum participate in the program. Their communication challenges usually decrease dramatically by the time they graduate, and some go on to pursue advanced degrees. Ariel University also helps these graduates get jobs.
According to The Jerusalem Post, the program at Ariel University is “the only program of its kind within an Israeli university that helps the autistic members of the student body to live with mentors in the dormitories, study with tutors and gain meaningful employment.”