Autistic students can succeed with support

By Dean Galiffa

Jane Hutchinson, of Springfield, Pa., pursued immediate action for her son Frank’s future education when he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 3.

After exhibiting delays in speech and occupational development, Hutchinson’s son received early intervention services through the state.

When the Delaware County Intermediate Unit suggested that Hutchinson enroll him in a developmental delay preschool, she did so at the Pennington Education Center, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

“At first it was very difficult,” Hutchinson said. “One day at the pool, I remember explaining to another parent where Frank would be attending school. That was the first time I said the word ‘autism.’”

But over the next several years, Hutchinson educated herself on the disorder.

“When Frank was first diagnosed, it was one in every 150 kids,” she explained. “Now, it’s one in every 65. And, it’s more common in boys over girls. I found comfort in that knowledge.”

For Hutchinson, choosing to enroll her child in specialized education rather than mainstream resulted from a combination of suggestions from doctors and educators.

“Typical kids were not Frank’s peers,” she said. “Kids with autism were Frank’s peers.”

Hutchinson’s son is now enrolled at The Vanguard School, a specialized education program of Valley Forge Educational Services.

As she prepares for her son’s future, Hutchinson faces a decision similar to many parents of children with autism spectrum disorder: what postsecondary life for their child will be.

In the journal of Remedial and Special Education, researchers L.E. Smith and Dr. Kristy Anderson noted that families parenting a child with autism spectrum disorder experienced significant stress levels, especially during adolescence. Parents also played critical roles in their child’s post-high school transition.

According to Dr. Jo M. Hendrickson writing for the journal of Education & Treatment of Children, “autism-friendly” school environments positively impacted the mental health of family members and the student.

However, data that indicated a college environment to be autism-friendly, meaning each student received person-centered aid, was scarce. The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability suggested that traditional college accommodations did not meet the needs of students with disabilities.

Consequently, these students are at high risk for dropping out. Furthermore, experts evidence suggested that the views of parents and students attending postsecondary programs did not align, interfering with the student’s progress.

A study published in the Journal of Developmental & Physical Disabilities suggested similar conclusions.

In interviews conducted between 10 parents and six university personnel, five themes emerged, including the personal needs of students with disabilities and their transition to the university.

Findings suggest that services offered by universities may need to be expanded to meet the unique requirements of students with disabilities.

The journal of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry & Mental Health evaluated the transition from high school to postsecondary options among students with autism.

The students used an online interactive program called the Better Outcomes & Successful Transitions for Autism, or BOOST-A.

The program “empowers adolescents on the autism spectrum to plan their transition from school to further study, training, or employment,” according to the article. “The trial will involve adolescents on the autism spectrum in high school and their parents, who will be alternately assigned to a control group….or an intervention group.”

The goal of BOOST-A is for students with disabilities to successfully transition from high school to postsecondary options, including employment.

The University of Iowa Realizing Educational and Career Hopes Program, or UI REACH, as described in the journal of Education & Treatment of Children, is a “well-integrated two year certificate program.”

The program integrates students with disabilities into the mainstream college atmosphere. Residence halls and classrooms are occupied with typical students and students with disabilities alike.

A student can earn a collegiate, trade, or technical certificate after two to four years of study.

Despite the progress made at some institutions of higher learning, Hutchinson said she still struggles with the decision to allow her son to attend a postsecondary institution.

“When I sent him to specialized education, I looked at it as Frank being in a community of his peers,” said Hutchinson. “He would not have benefited from attending mainstream education. Now, he’s getting to the age of making another big commitment.”

The Vanguard School, where Hutchinson’s son currently attends, allows students to remain enrolled until age 21.

“After that, I really would like to see Frank in a college setting,” said Hutchinson. “But I am very hesitant to make those decisions now. College isn’t specialized education, and Frank would have to learn basic skills in order to live on his own.”

Hutchinson explained that her son may experience difficulty leaving high school.

“Frank does not transition well,” she added. “The idea of college is too open-ended to him, and he views the world in a very precise and logical way.”

For now, Hutchinson hopes that her son will pursue higher education and possibly attend trade school.

“He’s very hands-on,” she explained. “I think a trade would be good for his stronger assets. More than anything, I just want him to be happy. I want the best for him.”

Contact Dean Galiffa at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

Alumnus speaks of autism at work

By Dean Galiffa

Dean1
Speaker Patrick Viesti addresses students and faculty in the DCCC Marple campus lecture hall. Photo by Dean Galiffa

Standing at the podium, looking out into the crowd of students, Patrick Viesti introduces himself to the onlooking pupils. All eyes are on him as he stands in the front of the DCCC Marple campus lecture hall on April 11.

“Good morning, everyone,” Viesti says. “I want to thank you for inviting me to talk about SAP’s ‘Autism at Work’ program and share my journey. To begin this story, I need to provide a background of who I am. [I have been] featured in several major video and written news publications. But, before all of that, at the age of three, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.”

Viesti is one of five who were selected to be a part of the Autism at Work Program at the Newtown Square campus of SAP, one of the world’s largest business software companies, where he currently manages company projects as an order execution manager.

Viesti has spoken at the United Nations in New York for World Autism Awareness Day. He was asked by Jose Velasco, head of SAP’s Autism at Work Program in North America, to be interviewed by news television channels Al-Jazeera America and CBS This Morning.

The ARC of Philadelphia, SAP’s local implementation partner with the Autism at Work Program, asked Viesti to visit Capitol Hill and speak to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) about how colleges and local businesses can form partnerships to help those on the autism spectrum better integrate into the workforce after graduation.

After receiving DCCC’s 2017 Rising Star award for the 50th anniversary last September, Viesti recently visited the Marple campus to discuss his experiences as a student with Asperger’s.

“It’s hard to believe, but I, too, sat in the very same seats you are now,” Viesti says, looking out into the lecture hall. There was a murmur from the audience as students and teachers chuckled.

“Taking my first steps towards higher education was something I had been preparing for since I graduated from Hill Top Preparatory School,” Viesti says. “My experiences with DCCC were some of the best at challenging me to become a better writer, a better critical thinker, and a better person.”

After attending Coeburn Elementary School in Rosemont, Pa., Viesti’s parents found it best for him to attend specialized education for both middle and high school.

Hill Top Preparatory School is a grade fifth through twelve preparatory day school for students with learning disabilities.

Viesti attended the school for seven years. After graduating in 2005, he attended DCCC where he received an associate degree in communications.

In 2008, Viesti transferred to West Chester University where he graduated Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2011.

After graduating, Viesti had difficulty finding a job due to a combination of the recession and his Asperger syndrome. However, in May 2013, a family friend referred Viesti to a CNN news report on SAP’s Autism at Work inAfter applying for the program, Viesti was contacted by ARC of Philadelphia in late February 2014 to be interviewed.

Walking toward the audience, Viesti addresses the students and faculty with nothing between them. Hands crossed over his tie, he stands only feet away from the front row.

“The interview process was nothing like I expected,” Viesti says, abandoning his scripted speech. “They actually really wanted to get to know me on a personal level.”

Audience members smile as they listen to Viesti share why he thinks it is important for colleges to support students with autism.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of colleges such as DCCC forming partnerships with local businesses that will give students on the spectrum a better, stronger chance at being hired after graduation,” Viesti said.

Now, Viesti speaks on behalf of his personal experiences at SAP when other companies interested in Autism at Work visit. He helps inform and equip their administrators to implement the program at their own company.

Viesti hopes that both students on the spectrum and otherwise will continue to persevere and use their available resources.

“When I was looking for work, there were times that I thought ‘what more can I do?’” Viesti said. “There will always be that one person that will say ‘I want to hire you.’ You have to keep going, you have to keep pushing. Even beyond graduation, continue to keep in contact with people who can help you. I would not have graduated without that support.”

Contact Dean Galiffa at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

Religious zealots occupy campus

Photos by Dean Galiffa

‘Delaware County Community College is a public institution that believes in and encourages free speech, whether we agree with that speech or not.’ -DCCC President Dr. L. Joy Gates Black

dean.1
A representative of Key of David Christian Center holds anti-sodomy sign in the Marple campus courtyard.

 

dean.3
A representative of KDCC proclaims people who do not accept Jesus as their savior are going to hell.
dean.4
Em Mirra pleads for tolerance.
dean.5
“Feminists are whores,” according to protestors.
dean.6
Students protest KDCC’s controversial claims.
dean.7
Students make light of tense protest by peacefully dancing in the courtyard.
dean.8
Rebecca “Bunny” Thompson challenges KDCC representative’s beliefs.

‘Coping With Anxiety’: a professional perspective

By John Kearney

Richard M. Conforto, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and clinical director at Springfield Psychological, spoke to almost 30 students in Room 4255 on Marple campus, April 11. The workshop, “Coping with Anxiety,” focused on anxiety disorders and their complications, while providing insights on how to manage their anxiety.

DCCC counselor Jennifer Kalligonis said she initially invited Conforto to speak in March, but the talk was postponed due to inclement weather that closed the college.

“We’ve had a lot of students coming in with symptoms of anxiety,” said DCCC counselor Kalligonis, who also hosted a workshop earlier in the academic year for students feeling anxious regarding tests and exams.

“Since it seemed so prevalent, it seemed like a good idea to have a workshop about general anxiety,” Kalligonis said.

Conforto began his presentation by recognizing what anxiety is.

“Anxiety is the body’s natural reaction to a threat,” Conforto said. “It could be categorized by feelings of apprehension, dread and fear.”

Conforto highlighted cognition as a major role in the amount of stress an individual can experience.

“Most of the stressors we face today are psychological, whether they are worries about the future, regrets about the past, or injustices that cause frustration and anger,” he explained.

Conforto then categorizes the symptoms of anxiety as physical, mental, and behavioral.

Physical symptoms include feeling tired, headaches, chest pain and pounding heart, muscle tension, and trouble sleeping.

Mental symptoms include an inability to concentrate, a lack of interest in things previously enjoyed, irritability, and excessive worry.

Behavioral symptoms comprise a decrease in performance at school or work, increased conflicts with others, and using recreational drugs to cope with stress.

“There is a neurological basis for anxiety and stress,” Conforto said. “While we cannot remove or eliminate anxiety neurochemically, we can manage it.”

He next offered ways of coping if the trigger or stressor can or cannot be controlled.

“Being assertive with others is useful if stress is generated by others imposing their agendas on you,” he told students.

Conforto then outlined some coping techniques to consider when feeling anxious such as “healthy self-talk” which allows people to “talk to themselves like they would a friend or loved one,” he stated.

He considered perfectionism or “all or nothing” thinking as counterintuitive to mental health.

“Life has shades of gray,” Conforto added.

In social and personal situations, Conforto suggested that one “examine the evidence” and “dispute irrational beliefs” as a means of providing clear context.

Overgeneralizing and jumping to conclusions were also noted as a means of “taking a simple event, and blowing it out of proportion,” according to Conforto.

After the lecture, Conforto managed an activity in mindfulness in which participants closed their eyes for five minutes and focused their attention on their breathing.

“Breathing is our anger at the present,” he whispered. “Notice how each breath fades into the next.”

Tips provided at the end of Conforto’s talk emphasized the role of caring for one’s self, filling one’s life with positive experiences and people “for those you have control over,” and recognizing the things that are worth being grateful for “as they can really shift your perspective,” he said.

Louis Silvestri, a 19-year -old business major, believed the talk was beneficial.

“I thought it was useful,” Silvestri said. “ I like how he showed us how everything is connected.”

Conforto also mentioned the importance of keeping a journal as a means of venting, self-reflection, and personal growth.

Afterward, Conforto offered references to help manage anxiety: free apps like “InsightTimer” and “Headspace” provide mindfulness training, as well as readings, such as “When Panic Attacks,” by David Burns, and “Mindfulness for Beginners” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Some websites were MindfulNet (www.mindfulnet.org) and UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (www.marc.ucla.edu).

The full list of references Conforto provided is available as a handout in the Career and Counseling Center.

“Fear and anxiety are like bullies; they are not scary once you confront them,” Conforto said. “It is necessary to move toward the feared situation rather than avoid it.”

Contact John Kearney at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

DCCC nursing program paves way for successful nursing careers

By Comfort Queh

comfort
Theophile Tembe, a science for health professions major, tutors a DCCC student in the Learning Commons. Photo by Comfort Queh

Theophile Tembe, a science for health profession major, was born in Cameroon and has lived in the United States for two years. Tembe maintains a 3.74 grade point average while working part time as a chemistry tutor at DCCC and full time for the Pennsylvania Agency of Nurses as a home health aide.

“I want to know as much as I can know, to build my career,” said Tembe, who also attends DCCC full time. Tembe will be graduating in May 2018 and transferring to Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions on an academic scholarship in September.

Tembe was awarded an acedemic scholarship of approximately $45,000 by Drexel University, under the condition that he maintains a 3.5 grade point average.

“I feel [Drexel] is the right place for me to be,” said Tembe, adding that attending DCCC helped him save money and time.

Tembe is one of many students enrolled in DCCC’s nursing program who are eager to graduate in May and pursue their nursing careers by transferring to prestigious nursing schools to finish their Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Every semester students go through multiple steps to compete for an entrance into the nursing program at DCCC. Since seating in the program is limited, admission is competitive.

To be considered for the program, students must complete the two-part application process, the first part being a general admission application that all DCCC students are required to complete for acceptance into the college.

Part two of the admission process includes a mandatory aptitude test titled “Test of Essential Academic Skills” (TEAS), designed to determine if students will be able to succeed in nursing school. Students are required to score a “B” or above on the four part component test to be considered for admission into the nursing program.

Once accepted into the program, students undertake an intense curriculum for four semesters to complete the program. The program combines clinical laboratory experience and hands-on practice.

Students are able to save money and time through the three different pathways available through the program, said Faye Meloy, dean of Allied Health, Emergency Service and Nursing.

One pathway students can take is the transfer route that Tembe took, whereby students take a majority of their general sciences and gen-ed classes at DCCC, then transfer to a four year university with their Associate in Applied Science (AAS), where they will spend two more years to complete a BSN.

Another pathway students can take is successfully completing DCCC’s nursing program to receive their AAS, then moving on to a Nursing Residency Program where they are able to practice being a registered nurse (RN).

Once successfully completing the nursing program, students are eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN, a state exam that allows the student to practice nursing, Meloy explained.

A third cost effective pathway available to students in the program is the ADN-BSN [Associate Degree in Nursing-Bachelor of Science in Nursing] enrollment program, a dual admission agreement that DCCC has with Drexel University.

“DCCC originally approached Drexel about the idea, thereby allowing other schools to pursue the program,” Meloy said.

Under this program, students in the nursing program are required to successfully complete all of DCCC ADN requirements while completing their BSN general-ed classes online with Drexel.

With this option, students receive approximately 40 percent off their tuition when they attend Drexel University’s nursing program.

All Drexel University students accepted into the nursing program are required to go through a co-op program, which provides professional and clinical work experience for students; however, according to the agreement DCCC has with Drexel, that requirement is taken care of when students successfully complete the AAS at DCCC.

Students like Tembe, Alyson Lyons, Marie Basilici and others, who are enrolled in DCCC’s nursing program, have all chosen different pathways to reach their career goals. Basilici and Lyons are both completing the dual admission agreement DCCC has with Drexel University.

Basilici, a wife, mother of three and returning student, will also be graduating in May 2018 after successful completing the DCCC nursing program. She will be attending Drexel University School of Nursing with only six more credits to complete her BSN.

“I was a little worried that going to an associate degree program would present a problem for me getting a job, but the way our nursing program is set up, they begin clinical hands-on work in the first semester, and that was really important to me,” Basilici said.

With this program, Basilici’s chances of being hired at any residential hospital after passing the NCLEX-RN exam are high.

“I really love DCCC,” she added. “I’m so happy I made the decision to come here.”

Lyons, 35, works part time at an Ace Hardware Store in Drexel Hill, while attending DCCC full time and attending Drexel University part time. Lyons will be graduating in May after completing DCCC’s nursing program.

“I would definitely recommend [DCCC],” Lyons said. “It’s been a great program, and the teachers are all great; lots of support throughout the whole program.”

After graduating, Lyons will be doing her residency at Geisinger Medical Center School of Nursing while finishing her six credits at Drexel to complete her BSN degree.

Eventually, Lyons would like to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).

“Whichever paths you take you are going to become a nurse at the end,” Lyons said. “It’s a great program, with great staff and I definitely saved money because of the program.”

Contact Comfort Queh at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu