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MSU-West Plains unveils support program for college students with autism

MSU-West Plains
MSU-West Plains

Missouri State University-West Plains has a new program for students with autism. Starting this fall, the program will help these students transition to college.

The two-year program, called ASCEND, provides accommodation and support for neurodivergent students headed to college. The university says the program focuses on developing students’ academic and social skills. Participating students can move in to campus early, and they’ll meet with professors, tutors, and peer mentors regularly to create an academic plan suited to their needs.

William Cole will be one of the first students to participate in the program. He graduated from Lutie High School in Theodosia, in south-central Missouri in 2020.

“I’m excited about the experience of college and getting to meet new people,” Cole told KSMU. 

Cole says he plans to study computer graphics for two years in West Plains, then transfer to Missouri State in Springfield to get a bachelor’s degree. His mother Kathalee Cole, says when he was accepted into the ASCEND program, she was “overjoyed.”

“It was like an answer to prayers," she says, "Because William has always wanted to go to college. But having someone there to help him stay on track, tutoring, making sure he gets to his classes on time, work with him on those social skills -- that was always the hurdle we could never get past. And with the ASCEND program, they are going to provide all of that.” 

Mikala King is the director of the ASCEND program.

“This program gives the support and the confidence, and pushes for the self-advocacy and the independence for these students to know that they can accomplish the goals that they have set out for themselves,” King says.

In rural areas like south-central Missouri, programs serving neurodivergent students are relatively rare.

The university also plans to give participating students tailored internship opportunities in their chosen fields.

Josh Conaway is a graduate of Missouri State University with a B.A. in Political Science and an M.A. in International Affairs. He works as a news reporter and announcer at KSMU. His favorite part of the job is exploring the rich diversity of the Ozarks and meeting people with interesting stories to share. He has a passion for history and running.