As a college student, juggling studying, maintaining a healthy mindset and a personal life can be difficult, especially for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other learning disabilities. The University of Tulsa offers these students resources, such as free assistance and coaching, to be successful.
Recently, the Student Access office opened a sensory room — a therapeutic space filled with soothing sounds, cool colors and a relaxing place to sit. The room helps students decompress so they can be better prepared for class and to interact with others. The trend started in 2019 when the Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars opened similar rooms for fans who require a calm, quiet place away from a loud football game.
TU currently has two sensory rooms available on campus, with another in the works.
While building their resumes and practicing for interviews, the biggest questions students with disabilities ask is, “Should I disclose my disability?” and “How do talk about it?” explained Tawny Rigsby, director of Student Academic Success. “More than 500 students at TU are registered with disabilities. This population can have a lot of anxiety and can struggle remembering to have self-care,” she said.
Student Access trains faculty and staff to provide guidance to professors on how best to accommodate students with learning disabilities, which has built trust, created resources and helped make TU autism friendly.
All students registered with Student Access are eligible to receive assistance and coaching. The Pathfinders is uniquely designed to meet the needs of TU students living with autism spectrum disorders or social anxiety disorders. Student Access welcomes students living with these differences as well as their friends and families.
In Pathfinders, students participate in skills-building groups, social events and academic success coaching, all with their sensory needs in mind. Group discussion topics include building and maintaining relationships, talking with professors and practicing self-care. “We have seen students that didn’t have a lot of friends or a network, form friendships through the SOP,” explained David Kobel, director for Student Access.
The program has grown to 53 students in the 2019-20 academic year and is open to those not only with autism but also with sensory processing issues, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and tics. Student Access social events use specific tools such as sensory-friendly games and service dogs to create a comfortable atmosphere for students.
Academic success coaches guide students through topics and skills-building sessions and help them grow as peers and future professionals. In everyday activities, students work on improving their communication with others and resolving disagreements with classmates or even roommates. “Students continuing to visit our office and bring friends show us that they are getting something out of the program,” Kobel said.
Student Access will offer a mentoring program with faculty, staff and students next fall.