Students on autism spectrum excel despite barriers

Paul Schubert
News Reporter

David Rankie thought high school was tough, but he’s finding college a greater challenge.

Rankie, a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning student at Humber College, has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). He’s been coping well with the adjustment to post-secondary education and emphatically succeeding.

“So far, I’ve maintained a 90 average in every class,” Rankie said. “I’ve been on the Dean’s List three or four times, and I’ve passed all my government exams for my program.”

Rankie is also quick to share some of the challenges he has faced. Having a nine-month gap between high school and college was tough since he had to re-adjust back to a school setting, but this time in a much larger environment.

Rankie explained there are barriers students with ASD face on a regular basis. Understanding of the condition just isn’t there and it’s a struggle for non-ASD students to comprehend the challenges faced by those on the autism spectrum, he said.

Sonia Thakur, a Humber accessibility consultant who works with ASD students, said it is important to not generalize about all students with ASD due to the diversity within the autism spectrum itself.

“Depending where they are on the spectrum, they will present different challenges,” she said. “Basically, (it’s) the social challenges and navigating the social interactions that they have in their day-to-day lives.”

Jeff Szmyr is another accessibility consultant who previously worked with ASD students at North campus before relocating to the Lakeshore campus.

“When I used to work at the North campus, there was a higher population of ASD students there than at the Lakeshore campus,” Szmyr said. “I think that’s because there are some programs that are more popular, and those are housed at the North campus.”

Szmyr said Accessibility Services at Humber are not yet designed with autism as a leading consideration, although it is now working to help identify and break down the barriers faced by such students.

“I think that when a supportive environment is established, then some brilliant course work can come out of the students,” he said. “For example, I have seen students within the Multimedia Design program that produce excellent portfolios of work.”

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