It’s hard enough making the transition from high school to college, but for students with autism, it can be a little more difficult. One of the reasons is that they can struggle building interpersonal skills.
A local student organization, called STARS, at Christian Brothers University is making the transition for them a little easier. STARS stands for Student Tackling Autism Related Syndromes. The rates of autism are growing, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates by the year 2020, 1 in 20 people will be born with it.
“As I saw Joseph getting further and further into college, he needed that, a support team,” said Kim Jameson, Director of STARS.
The mission of STARS is to assist college students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or with social anxieties by facilitating interpersonal growth through peer mentoring, social activities and creative endeavors.
The inspiration behind STARS comes from Jameson’s son, Joseph, who is on the autism spectrum. Jameson saw firsthand how difficult it was for her son Joseph to make a successful transition from high school to college.
“I kept thinking, I wish Joseph had a group of people where he can hang out and just feel at home with people who are like him,” Jameson explained. “Now he’s on the other side of it where he’s in college and there aren’t very many programs on college campuses. There are some programs but few and far between.”
A CBU graduate herself, Jameson started STARS in 2015. The organization also promotes individual expression through a variety of creative endeavors. It also promotes ASD student’s career development by working with CBU’s Career Services to conduct workshops on interviewing and job skills.
“It’s no pressure. You’re not expected to come to every meeting. You’re not expected to pay a membership fee or anything. We just want your presence here just to come and hang out, eat some pizza, play some UNO,” said Nikole Agront-Rodriguez, STARS volunteer.
Tuesday night, the group did Karaoke. They do activities like this to help students get out of their comfort zones.
“Still shy but easier for me to talk to people,” said Gabrielle Cummings-Allen, a STARS participant. “It’s helped me to be more outspoken and just talk to people, that’s really what I was having trouble with before, just talking to people.”
The group started with roughly 10 students and it has now grown into a group of 30 plus students.
“They’re all so unique. One might be real strong in something, or weak in something else. It’s such a mixed bag,” Jameson said.