Mitchell Lord hit the career wall many recent college graduates face: he couldn’t find a job.
He’d earned an undergraduate degree in psychology at Mercer University, but he didn’t have the desired internship experience. His focus for much of his time at Mercer was on his autism diagnosis, which he’d received shortly after enrolling.
“The diagnosis was more comforting than anything,” he said. “If I’m autistic, that means there’s a name for it, a reason for the things I do, and there are people who can help me.”
Lord, a Mobile native, decided to pursue a second undergraduate degree and was keen to find a school with services and structure to support students with autism. He and his mother “looked everywhere” and eventually decided on The University of Alabama, where the ASD College Transition and Support Program (UA-ACTS) provides individualized counseling and academic advising, and serves as a bridge to other services across campus.
For Lord, the support was immediate.
“They provide structure, someone who can tell you how things are and provide the rules,” Lord said. “If you’re having trouble with figuring out which degree is best for you, they’ll take it over and it will mean something. Ms. Davies and Dr. (Sarah) Ryan made sure I had two or three backups in case something happened, and now I’m an econ major.”
“Essentially, the program makes sure I know where the resources are. They put me in contact with the math lab, and I wouldn’t have known about tutoring services in Paty Hall. They make sure I’m working with ODS (Office of Disability Services),” Lord said.
ACTS is one of two components in The University of Alabama Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinic, which also provides assessments and interventions to children and their parents in the Tuscaloosa community. The college support program serves UA students who have already been diagnosed by helping them develop and strengthen self-advocacy and social interaction and help them connect with tutors, housing and disability services on campus.
The program typically serves 20 students each academic year.
“Students apply to be a part of the program; however, if professors have questions about students in their classes who do not participate in the program we are happy to answer specific questions. We also offer trainings to any group that wants info about this subset of the population,” said Ryan, clinic director.
Students also use the clinic for study hall and to meet with mentors as many as three times a week.
Lord said the social activities organized by the clinic pull him out of his room, where he’d normally be isolated and playing video games. The increased interaction has helped Lord expand his gaming options and further development of the online role-playing game, Divine Blood.
“ACTS gave me a place where I feel comfortable in doing that,” Lord said. “This place has been a godsend.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.