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Book Review: Autism Spectrum Disorders in the College
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In Chapter 1, Basic Writing Students with Autism in the College Classroom (Ribble, 2001), the author uses the example of one her students to discuss and provide recommendations for college writing instructors. She discusses the “groundswell” and “huge numbers of students with autism coming” at length. That discussion is followed by a story of the student with autism who arrived in her classroom. “I didn’t know what his problem was, only that he wrote strangely structured papers, talked nonstop about his ideas without awareness that other students were getting tired of listening to him” ( p.17).

Referring to “groundswell” and “problem” in this context suggests a model of disability that is inconsistent with the framework established by the editors. Earlier, she describes students with autism as “driving the rest of the group crazy with their mono-focused intensity,”( p.16). She goes on to imply that the privacy requirements of the postsecondary offices that serve students with disabilities are problematic because they put “faculty in the position of becoming mind readers and/or untrained diagnosticians” (p.18). She fails to consider or address the students’ perspective and the implications for the student related to disability disclosure. Her underlying belief structure and perception of disability is revealed in this passage:
…the people with handicaps can be taught despite their handicaps… and now we are again arguing the case for students with Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and other Autism Spectrum Disorder to do college level reading, writing, despite some of these students’ learning issues.(p.19)

A perspective that embraces the diversity of learning styles all students bring to the college classroom would be consistent with the framework established by the editors. Ribble purports to have employed Universal Design (UD) principles, referring to UD as a “pedagogy” that is “exceptionally useful because it can work with each student as an individual, designing a learning plan specifically to meet the needs of that student” (Ribble, 2011, p.27). What Ribble describes is not Universal Design but simply individualized instruction. Universal Design applied in an instructional setting, referred to as Universal Design for Instruction (UDI) or Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approaches curricular and pedagogical planning and decisions with the goal of making instruction and learning accessible to all learners regardless of ability, so “that methods, materials, and assessment are usable by all” (CAST, 2011, p.13). CAST (2011) provides the following principles for Universal Design for Learning:
  • Principle I: Provide Multiple Means of Representation (the presentation of content).
  • Principle II: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression (how learners engage with the content).
  • Principle III: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement (applying motivational factors).
  • Riddle did not describe a process of addressing her UDL in her planning or instructional methods. She shares how she applied her interpretation of UD in her Basic Writing class: one-on-one tutoring. In addition to this problematic conflation of UDL with individual instruction, the author fails to provide an explanation as to how the tutor worked with the student with ASD, something what would have been useful to tutors and basic writing instructors reading this chapter. A final criticism that applies to this chapter and to most of the subsequent chapters: the author refers to “autistic individuals” and ignores the person-first language that honors the individual first. Person-first language is consistent with the asset-based approach established by the editors and would require authors to refer to students with Asperger’s Syndrome.


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