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Concord partners with W.Va. Autism Training Center

Bluefield Daily Telegraph - 3/2/2017

March 02--ATHENS -- More professional resources are coming to Concord University to help CU students who have an autism spectrum disorder.

The university and the West Virginia Autism Training Center have signed a partnership that is expected to be in "full swing" this fall, according to Dr. Cheryl Barnes, Concord's associate dean.

Applications are being taken now from students who "self-identify themselves on that spectrum," Barnes said. Skill-building support groups have already been set up for currently enrolled students, with twice weekly meetings.

The disorder includes a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors and speech and nonverbal communication, according to the website

"We will be able to have that supportive environment for these individuals," Barnes said. "We definitely try to accommodate any student's needs. It's something we have always been able to do, and always will do."

Graduate students seeking the master of social work or master of education at Concord will be key to providing services in the new program, Barnes said. The help will focus on academic needs, social needs and independent living needs of students with autism spectrum disorders, she said.

The training center, in operation since 2002, is headquartered on the Marshall University campus in Huntington, but has a mission to identify and serve needs statewide, said Dr. Marc Ellison, executive director of the training center. He said that the college support program is just one of the center's efforts.

"Our program at Marshall University, and the program we are developing at Concord University, provides academic, social, and independent living supports so that students with ASD have the best opportunity to earn a degree," he wrote in an email.

"One aspect of the program that we're really proud of is that 94 percent of those enrolled in our program have graduated or are on track to graduate (from college)," he said in a phone interview from Huntington.

He said that the outreach to Concord is a "natural partnership," and that the CU administration has been "welcoming." Some of his staff have traveled to Athens to help coordinate the startup.

More Concord faculty and staff will be receiving training, Ellison said. That will ramp up beginning in August with "phase two" of the partnership.

He recommended that students diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition launch an "active case" with the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services, which "will often pay for these services, if you have an active case and medical services have been approved for you," he said.

When students in the autism spectrum first enroll in college, he said, "They live with tremendous anxiety, tremendous stress. If you live with (that), you tend to isolate yourself in your dorm room ... and that leads to flunking out."

More than 60 percent of young adults with an autism spectrum disorder do not go to work or continue their education within the first two years after they leave high school, according to a 2015 study conducted by Drexel University'sAutism Institute.

The support developed by the West Virginia Autism Training Center comes not only from professors, but includes "a significant amount of mentoring," Ellison said. Students who are near the same age provide "advice, coaching, and they develop relationships that help them feel comfortable," he said.

College students with an autism spectrum disorder "go through the first couple of years that might be bumpy," he said, "but then things even out, the students become more mature, and sort out their options, and do quite well."

Barnes said, "I think it's a great program for us ... because they can be successful."

-- Contact Tom Bone at


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