SMC offers first autism studies undergraduate course
Amelia Bostetter | Thursday, November 2, 2023
In this upcoming spring semester, Saint Mary’s will begin offering its first undergraduate autism studies course. Taught by Dr. Michael Waddell, director of the SMC Autism Studies Program, the course is called “Autistic Voices” and will put a focus on the experiences and lives of individuals on the autism spectrum.
Autism spectrum disorder is a nervous system condition which can impact a person’s ability to speak, how they interact and communicate with others socially and is cause for them to have repetitive behaviors and obsessive interests.
It’s a fairly common condition with 36 in 100 American children being diagnosed with it as of 2020 according to the CDC, and about 1% of the world population (70 million people) worldwide are diagnosed. While autism isn’t a curable condition, treatment can help make the lives of individuals impacted easier.
In the past few years, autism-related research has changed directions and altered their goals. While most past research on autism was done with the goal of finding a cure or cause for the condition, more recent research has shifted its focus to improving the lives of those with autism while using feedback from people with autism to guide their research.
“There is a movement within the autism community toward including the perspectives of people on the spectrum in the study of autism,” Waddell said. “This course contributes to that movement by introducing students to autism through the lived experiences of people on the spectrum.”
Since this is the first autism studies course to be offered at an undergraduate level and will focus on the lives and personal narratives of people with autism, it will likely provide students who take the course a deeper understanding of the condition and how it affects people. It will also be able to eliminate misconceptions early on in students’ education journey.
“Students will read autobiographies written by people on the spectrum — including women and men, people who are verbal and non-verbal and individuals from the US and around the world — watch documentaries by and about autistic people, and meet individuals who have autism,” Waddell said.
When asked about why the course was being offered at an undergraduate level for the first time, Waddell said, “This course is being offered as an experiment to determine whether there is interest in autism studies among undergraduates.”
Waddell also said that, as long as this inital course enrolls well, undergraduate autism studies classes will continue to be offered with the potential of also creating an undergraduate major or minor.
“Autistic Voices” will be held on Tuesdays from 5:30-8 p.m. and will count for three credit hours. It will be offered for all undergraduate students under AUST 390 and to graduate students under AUST 500.
The course was advertised with an email to all SMC students last week. After receiving the course flier in her email, first year Sam McGrath, who is studying speech pathology, said, “Learning from lived experiences of people on the spectrum will offer students a wider perspective and the opportunity to bring that perspective into their daily lives and their future careers.”