A community for students with autism

By John Cox

Youngstown State University’s Autism Social Group began in the spring 2022 semester, facilitated by Accessibility Services. Gatherings are meant to serve as an easy, noncommittal way to meet with others on the spectrum.

The group allows students on the autism spectrum to connect and have a safe space to interact while on campus.

Graduate Assistant Intern Morgan Davidson oversees meetings for the first 30 minutes, until she gives the students the space to run the meeting as they choose. She said Accessibility Services wishes to bring more visibility to the group and recently began utilizing the YSU App.

“This is the first semester that I started using the student feed. We’re allowing people to use a QR code to check in, and it also gives them the option to provide feedback,” Davidson said.

Davidson said feedback from students has been positive, because they find connecting with similar people a great way to foster a community.

“[Students] really liked it. They just really like the opportunity to socialize and meet other people like them who get it. It’s a safe space with less pressure,” Davidson said.

Gina McGranahan, assistant director of Accessibility Services, said she receives feedback from parents on how they feel about the group. 

“I get a lot of feedback from parents who like it. They like the opportunity for their students to meet other students,” McGranahan said.

The group’s activities are all decided by the members, McGranahan said, giving them the freedom to use the meeting time however they choose.

“Whatever the students choose to do, it’s their group, they decide. Sometimes they play cards, sometimes they sit around and talk, it’s a social group, it’s to do social activities,” McGranahan said. “We’re offering them things like painting the rock or to do different kinds of things, but it’s up to them ultimately if that’s what they want to do.”

According to Davidson, group turnout is smaller this semester, with four regular members down from the five prior, but they appreciate the space. 

Zach Gorrell, a public health major, said he enjoys having people around that understand what it’s like to struggle with autism.

“It’s nice to be able to have a community available to talk about the struggles because no one else gets it. They’re so hyper-specific to having autism that it’s hard to have anyone else to relate to,” Gorrell said. “I have a fiancé and I talk to her about my problems, but she does not understand my autistic problems that I have at all, and the community here really does.”

The meetings are held from 2 to 5 p.m. Mondays in Jones Meeting Room 2017 in Kilcawley Center. Registration with Accessibility Services is not mandatory for participation.