Opinion | The UI and Iowa City need to recognize Autism Acceptance Month

The UI and Iowa City need to give more recognition to Autism Acceptance Month in order to be even more inclusive of people with it and decrease the stereotypes associated with the condition.


Ally Pronina, Opinions Columnist

More than 3.5 million Americans are on the autism spectrum. With that level of prevalence in the U.S., people with autism deserves more recognition.

In order to get rid of the stereotypes associated with autism and provide a welcoming environment to people who have it, the University of Iowa and Iowa City can do more to recognize Autism Acceptance Month.

The UI has multiple programs that students with disabilities can use, including a program called REACH.

Sam Rame, a third-year student with autism, participates in the UI’s Realizing Education and Career Hopes (REACH) Program. The program provides opportunities for people aged 18-25 with intellectual disabilities to attend college. Rame said REACH has mentors who help students navigate campus. He added that UI REACH has sensory toys students can place their hands on when they feel stressed.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, UI Spectrum Disorder Committee wrote that it holds training for staff on neurodiversity and seminars for students who either identify as neurodiverse or are interested in learning more about it. The committee said students with autism can get accommodations though Student Disability Services, which includes the Academic Life Navigator Program (ALN).

“The ALN is meant to be a resource for those with ASD and ADHD to help empower them to achieve all that they can at the University of Iowa,” UI Spectrum Disorder Committee wrote. “In partnership with the Department of Rehabilitation and Counselor Education in the College of Education, students work individually with an intern to address their individual needs.”

It is a good thing the UI has programs and organizations which are accommodating toward and provide opportunities for people with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders to attend college. However, there is more that can be done to make its campus accommodating.

Rame said the first floor of the UI Main Library is very loud and can be difficult for students with autism to navigate as a symptom of the condition is sensitivity to noise. One possible solution for this is having headphones available for students with sensory processing issues to use to drown out the noise.

Rame said one way for the university to recognize Autism Acceptance Month would be small group discussions about what autism looks like, or where students with and without autism can play games with each other. The UI can also have speakers with autism talk about what autism is and how it has impacted them.

“I think it would be very interesting for the university to recognize autism awareness month because we want everyone to learn about the fundamentals of a student who has autism,” Rame said.

In Iowa City, the Iowa City Public Library can promote books about autism and by authors who have it. Hearing real life stories and books about autism can give the UI and Iowa City communities a better sense of what it is and do away with of some of the common stereotypes around it — such as the belief that people who have autism must lack empathy.

Rame said he had an internship at Little Angels, a preschool center in Iowa City, which he says disproves the stereotype people with autism lack empathy and don’t do well in social situations.

Rame’s eagerness to hear the stories of the children he worked with shows he has empathy toward others.

“I love listening to children’s stories because that is what makes me feel happy,” Rame said.

Diversity means recognizing neurodiversity. While the UI does have good programs for people with neurodevelopmental disorders, more can still be done.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.