KU Ranked Among 2020 Best Small Colleges for Students on Autism Spectrum

Outside of Graduate Center

Prior recognition of Autism Awareness on KU campus.

KUTZTOWN, Pa. – In the latest ranking of Applied Behavior Analysis Programs Guide’s (ABAPG) 30 Best Small Colleges for Students on the Autism Spectrum, Kutztown University lists proudly among the top in the nation. A clear standout, Pennsylvania universities have seven representatives in the top-30.

This specialized ranking system excluded colleges and universities with larger populations of more than 10,000 students. For many students, regardless of ability, larger colleges and universities are just too overwhelming, no matter how innovative the school’s support systems. Besides size, other factors used to rank schools include: specialized programs, overall Autism friendliness and inclusion, scholarships and financial support and the “it” factor - encompassing any other notable features not covered in other categories.

ABAPG highlights the KU Office of Disability Services’ My Place Program, a fee-based program designed specifically for students on the autism spectrum.

"The My Place Program provides a foundation for these students," said Linda Lantaff, director of Disability Services at Kutztown University. "The idea of My Place is not to isolate our students on the autism spectrum, but to give them the confidence that they need to use campus resources and facilities and engage in all areas of campus life.”

The My Place program focuses on aiding in student success across academics, career development, social skills and independent college living. The program caters to students on the spectrum with different levels of support, tailoring the program to fit individual needs and goals. Beyond the Disability Services office, KU hosts a number of free programs and services beneficial to all students, from the myriad of services offered at the Career Development Center, Center for Academic Success and Achievement (CASA), Writing Center and other tutoring services to the multiple inclusive events and comfortable common spaces located all over campus.

“I feel like it was extremely helpful in the transition from high school to college, because in college, you basically live on your own. It has really helped me, academically, to understand the responsibilities of a college student,” said a student involved in the MyPlace Program.

Lantaff has witnessed My Place members transform and grow; some students that were nervous to start their freshman year return their sophomore year more confident and excited to help mentor new My Place members. McKenzie Hollenbach, assistant director for the Office of Disability Services: Specialized Programs, stressed the necessity of input from the My Place students, both as practice for voicing self-advocacy and ensure the needs and interests of the students are being met. Participating students are also encouraged to connect with each other and peers in their individual classes, clubs or groups to further explore personal interests and develop friendships.

One student listed an inventory of social events they enjoyed attending, from the MSU movie series to clubs and university-sponsored trips out of state. Many students use the GroupMe app as a low-pressure and contemporary method of organizing activities among friends and group members. My Place members participate in weekly study halls, individual time with their mentors, social activities, time in the recreation center on campus as well as group dinners between members and mentors.

“One of the benefits of the program is that sometimes we can just work together on our own. We can act as our own leaders. It’s always good to make new friends and help others out,” said a student involved in the My Place Program.

Lantaff, Hollenbach and the KU team of mentors and staff in Disability Services are consistently striving for excellence. Hollenbach describes their close-working relationship with autism-support consultant Jane Thierfeld Brown. Brown is an author, assistant clinical professor at Yale Child Study, Yale Medical School, director of College Autism Spectrum and former director of Student Services at the University of Connecticut School of Law. She has worked in disability services for 39 years and now consults with universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education as well as other colleges across Pennsylvania to support autism-spectrum programs at those institutions.

Lantaff and Kerri Gardi, director of the KU Career Center, attended the 2019 College Inclusion Summit to discuss the most current and effective evidence-driven strategies to support college students with autism and other learning differences. The Career Development Center’s involvement with Disability Services begins during a My Place member’s freshman year. Gardi and her staff help students prepare for interviews, internships and the job market. Mentors work toward identifying skills, strengths and weaknesses in individual students. With more industries recognizing the benefits and value of neurodivergent employees, Lantaff and KU prepare their students to stand at the forefront of this movement.

It is through dedicated staff and faculty, effective relationships and the enterprise of excellence and student success that Kutztown University is honored as one of the best small colleges for students on the autism spectrum.

Applied Behavior Analysis Programs Guide is a free online resource for exploring the nation’s best degrees for future behavior analysts. Their mission is to provide expert guidance about the top universities helping students reach their career goals and become board certified. ABAPG shares real-world information about the Applied Behavior Analysis field to anyone wishing to work in special education, social work, counseling, rehabilitation and other helping professions.

For more information on disability services or My Place services please contact the Office of Disability Services at dso@kutztown.edu.