WIU works to better welcome students with Autism 

The Western Illinois University Justice, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (JIDE) is working on a fundraising initiative to support neurodivergent students as they transition beyond high school. 

JIDE, through the Accessibility Committee, recognizes significant challenges many neurodivergent individuals face upon graduating high school and losing access to school-based accommodations and resources. Committee members have made it their mission to bridge this gap and provide support.

Recently, JIDE was awarded a $1,000 grant from Autismazing to cover the cost of resources for this initiative and snacks for the students, WIU announced in a news release.

Autismazing is a North Carolina-based nonprofit formed by a parent and aunt of an autistic individual that is looking to expand its reach by sharing resources with the WIU Sensory team.

WIU has added sensory rooms to both campuses where neurodivergent people, or those with sensory needs, can find a relaxing and calm environment away from overstimulation such as harsh light and loud noises. 

Julie Curless of WIU’s Speech, Pathology, and Audiology Department has collaborated closely with the Western Illinois Divergent Support student group (WINDS) to identify the specific needs of neurodivergent students. Through this collaboration, a comprehensive spreadsheet of requested items has been compiled to ensure support provided is tailored to the students’ preferences and requirements.

“We’re dedicated to ensuring that every neurodivergent student feels supported and empowered to succeed,” Ms. Curless said.

In addition, the committee is highlighting the work of Museum Studies Professor Angela McClanahan Simmons at WIU-Quad Cities on the Virtual Sensorium project. This innovative online platform promises to provide invaluable resources not only to the campus community but also to a broader audience. By offering hands-on training opportunities, the Virtual Sensorium will empower students to enhance their skills and thrive in an inclusive environment.

“This grant is the beginning of what I hope will be a long-term partnership with Autismazing, with potential opportunities for student internships and workforce development training in addition to on-campus sensory support,” WIU Political Science Professor and Project Coordinator Casey Lafrance said. “We have already learned a great deal from them about needs relevant to neurodivergent students and young adults, as well as creative fundraising techniques such as their ice cream for breakfast fundraiser.”

“We hope to be able to provide student-centered opportunities for hands-on learning that benefits WIU as well as Autismazing and the other organizations with which we have partnered in initiatives, supporting students with Neurodivergent conditions, such as ASD, ADHD and PTSD,” Mr. Lafrance said. 

“We are impressed with the passion of Dr. LaFrance, their colleagues, university partners, students and community partners,” Autism Amazing President Deborah Kania said in the release. “We deeply appreciate the accomplishments and plans of the Initiatives in Accessibility Committee, JIDE, WIU Student Government Association, WIU Political Science, and other organizations and persons who have inspired impactful action at the University.” 

For more information on JIDE, visit wiu.edu/JIDE.

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