In 2018, Los Angeles Mission College President Monte Perez — based on his experience with a grandson who is on the autism spectrum — spearheaded an effort to provide more opportunities for autistic individuals.
Autism is a developmental disorder marked by difficulties with social interaction and communication which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affects about 1 in 54 children. Additionally, boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.
“I’ve been interested in how to serve students with autism, knowing full well that there’s a lot of talent there that needs to be tapped,” said Perez, adding he got “very involved” with the autistic community and learned how to accommodate students with autism in school, college and the world of work.
One thing Perez said he noticed was while people with autism often lack social skills, “they’re brilliant and bright, very insightful. But they can be literal, and love consistency and routine.”
Perez also learned the areas where they excelled.
“They do very well in computer information systems. They have a real knack for visual design, animation,” he explained.
Culinary arts is another area those with autism can excel because “they like the repetitive nature of food preparation,” Perez said.
Building on those strengths, the college launched the Uniquely Abled Academy under the Disabled Students Programs & Services to help and guide students in their education efforts. Tierra del Sol, a nonprofit foundation based in Sunland, also provides case managers who work with the individuals.
“In some cases, we make sure that they have note takers available in some of the courses to show [students with disabilities] how to do note taking,” Perez said. “We did some training for faculty on the needs of this population and to help them understand that many of them are literal and want to participate. We helped them with classroom management.”
Approximately 75-100 students have gone through the program, which strives to open doors and expand the opportunities for students within the autism spectrum.
“It’s about being inclusive, supportive, not looking at individuals as a deficit, but with assets you can promote and you can help them to succeed,” said Perez.
For more information, visit http://www.lamission.edu/DSPS/Uniquely-Abled-Academy.aspx or call (818) 364-7732.