Bridgewater College Launches Support Program for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Bridgewater College has announced the launch of the Bridgewater Academic and Social Experience (BASE) program, a student-centered program offered to Bridgewater students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or who feel that they may benefit from the support provided. The program, run by the College’s Office of Academic Support and Disability Services, fosters and encourages independence for students. Through a variety of support mechanisms, students in the BASE program will learn to apply the skills, strategies and self-advocacy needed to navigate the academic, social and critical thinking demands of college.

“For some time, our office has recognized the needs of students with autism spectrum disorder and observed that a lot of students would benefit from additional support,” said Regina Wine-Nash, BASE Program Director at Bridgewater College. “This program adds an extra layer of support and meets a variety of needs, including academic, social and vocational. It’s very individualized and takes a holistic approach to success in college that goes beyond academics.”

According to an article published in the Journal of College Student Development, only about 35% of individuals with ASD enroll in higher education within six years of leaving high school. The College Autism Network reported that as of May 2020, only 20 programs for students with autism spectrum disorder were offered at the 1,166 colleges and universities in the 12 states in the Southeast region, including Virginia. 

“Bridgewater has always been a fantastic choice for students who want to have the extra support and encouragement a strong small college community can provide. The introduction of the BASE program is one more way the College has demonstrated its deep commitment to the success of all students,” said Dr. Jeffrey Pierson, Dean of Graduate and Special Programs. 

The BASE program is designed in a step-down format, in which students will receive the highest level of support when first enrolled at the College. It gradually evolves over time to promote independence based on each student’s needs and progress. To aid in the transition from home to residence hall life, students in the BASE program will move in early to get acclimated to their new surroundings. They will also be given a personalized campus tour based on their class schedules and routines before classes begin. Students in the program will also have access to Resident Assistants (RAs) who have specialized training and will receive weekly check-ins concerning residential life from a designated mentor.

Academic support includes meeting with a student academic coach to build time management, work completion and personal responsibility techniques and skills. BASE program students will meet regularly with the program coordinator for academic support that includes course advising in collaboration with the student’s faculty advisor. Program participants will also receive access to a sensory-reduced study area.

BASE program students will receive a variety of social support, including weekly meetings with specially trained program mentors as well as monthly group social events with other members of the program that are designed to enhance the opportunity for friendships and involvement on campus. The College’s Spectrum Sense Club also provides another outlet for students with ASD.

One of the cornerstones of the program is the peer-type mentorship between a BASE program participant and an appropriately trained Bridgewater College student mentor. In their weekly meetings, mentors will offer life skills support and problem-solving guidance, as well as connect students with campus resources.

“This type of helping relationship between student mentors and BASE program participants is exemplary of our BC community,” said Dr. Alan Eby, Professor of Psychology and Master of Psychology-Mental Health Professions Program Director.

To ensure students in the BASE program are prepared for their chosen careers and life beyond college, they will receive tailored services on interview preparation, résumé writing and more through the College’s Center for Career Development. And based on a student’s GPA and with the program director’s approval, they will be connected with an on-campus, paid student work experience during their second semester in the program. Students will work an average of three to five hours per week for 10 weeks and will gain invaluable skills in how to navigate a work environment and how to interact with a manager and fellow employees.

“There’s a huge disconnect of those with autism spectrum disorder not gaining meaningful employment, even with bachelor’s degrees,” Wine-Nash said.

Once admitted to Bridgewater College, students are eligible to apply to join the BASE program at bridgewater.edu/BASE. Both the student and their parent/guardian will fill out questionnaires as part of the application process. Cost for the in-depth support program is $1,000 per semester.

“At Bridgewater College, we believe that the greatest possibilities in life are realized in what we build together as community,” Wine-Nash said. “The goal of the BASE program is to help support students toward their academic, social and vocational goals by connecting them with campus resources and creating valuable connections.”

For more information on the BASE program, go to bridgewater.edu/BASE, call Bridgewater’s Office of Academic Support and Disability Services at (540) 828-5660 or email disabilityservices@bridgewater.edu.

Media Contact:
Jessica Luck
Editor and Director of Media Relations
jluck@bridgewater.edu
(540) 828-5720

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