By Grace Johnson, April 6, 2021
As spring blossoms and the end of the semester draws nearer, Cal Poly Pomona’s Disability Resource Center launched the Spring Fling event series last month to support and motivate students on the autism spectrum. The center’s most recent event on March 19 allowed students the opportunity to build community in the virtual environment.
The center worked in partnership with Christian Abson, an autism specialist and care services coordinator, to launch the series this semester to help students who identify with autism unite, confide in one another and learn about campus resources.
“This event was really to create a sense of belonging for students who identify with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” said DRC Associate Director Ann Loomis. “Autism Spectrum Disorder is a disability that people very commonly consider part of their identity and also really varies in how it presents itself in different people. But for many, it does come with a lot of heightened social anxiety so, in some ways, joining an event online can be less anxiety-inducing and gives for a little bit more diversity of communication.”
According to Loomis and Abson, there are not many places on campus for students who identify with autism to congregate, so this online event series — made especially for them and closed to the press — has extended measures of support that the DRC hopes to continue, especially when the campus reopens.
“This was my first event ever doing something that was exclusive to students on the spectrum,” said Abson. “Usually, I’m thinking more on the inclusive side, wanting to impact students who are DRC-related as a whole. But this is my first time being intentional in providing a space and kind of event where students on the spectrum can come together to socialize and bond.”
Abson hosted the first Spring Fling in February and explained that students who attended expressed that they would appreciate another event to reconnect with peers with similar struggles, fears, dreams and aspirations.
The event evolved into a safe space for students who identify with autism to no longer feel alone or overlooked amid life’s many obstacles.
“My college experience has been difficult,” said first-year computer science student Hope Markley, a participant in the latest virtual event. “It was really great to find other students who share my specific experience with both school and relationships. There are even plans for all of us to meet up over Zoom during spring break.”
Throughout the event, Abson was able to connect with each of the 11 students who attended by speaking with them about various topics, including trending issues on Twitter and some of the students’ favorite movies. Abson was also encouraged to discover that the students created a Discord channel to continue communicating after the meeting adjourned.
According to Autism Speaks, approximately 50,000 Americans who are on the spectrum enter adulthood each year, but only one-third end up attending college, with rates for finishing coursework being low while dropout rates remain high.
Before entering college, Markley explained that school was easier to navigate with lighter coursework. However, this became more difficult when transitioning to the heavy, college-level courses.
“Registering with the DRC and getting accommodations has really helped me,” said Markley. “The extra time on tests and being able to record all of my lectures have saved me on numerous occasions.”
The Spring Fling event series is curated to provide guidance for students socially and academically. The ultimate goal is to address their struggles and find the most reliable solution, according to Abson.
“It was a really fun time,” said Abson. “I was very excited to see that not only did they come to the event seeking that social support, but they were also open to seeing these new relationships continue to develop. Eventually, we will get back to campus and I feel like I could get a lot of students to come together in a physical space to engage and build a greater community of support and genuine friendship.”
DRC’s upcoming Spring Fling event is scheduled to be held on April 19 via Zoom.
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