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Book Review: Autism Spectrum Disorders in the College
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Chapter 3, Structure and Accommodation: Autism and the Writing Center, by April Mann (2011), who runs a writing center and has a son with Asperger’s Syndrome, provides an excellent overview of ASD. This is the only chapter in the book that is written from the perspective that is truly consistent with the assets-based approach established by the editors. She discloses her struggle with phrasing and is explicit in her decision to use person-first language which “allows the person to come first, rather than the label” (p.48). She states:
For writing centers, their colleges and universities, and for students and teachers, I believe progress will come through learning to understand commonalities and through developing and promulgating strategies which acknowledge and encourage the abilities of the students in the AS population, without positing them as somehow irrevocably, neurologically other (p.46).

She frames the discussion of the intense focus of many students with AS in a positive light, offering this characteristic as a skill or strength, as opposed to something that needs to be worked around or changed. She states that writing tutors need to see the “positive potential value of special interest,” pointing out that “universities exist to encourage people in their special interests” (p.55). She makes the point that there are few “topics so esoteric or obscure that they cannot fit into some already acceptable university discipline” ( p.55). Mann embraces the assets-based thinking established by the editors and provides examples of how writing centers can work with all students from that perspective. She states that we, as educators, do students with ASD a “disservice by seeing them as alien others” (p.68). She concludes that the adjustments that can (and should) be made institutionally can benefit all students who utilize campus writing centers. Chapter 4, Recommended Approaches to Neuroimaging Literature on Autism Spectrum Disorders for Teachers of Writing by Lynda Walsh and Cheryl Olman (2011), seems misplaced. The authors offer recommendations for evaluating functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) studies related to ASD. They provide a brief overview of the findings of some fMRI studies (e.g. mirror neurons), but discussion about the neurology of ASD contributes little to the practical understanding of working with college students with ASD. The authors come to the conclusion that “students with ASD may have difficulty empathizing with others and therefore may have trouble performing audience analysis exercises intuitively” (p.81). The five general recommendations provided in the conclusion do offer some guidance for instructors that can help make instruction more accessible for all learners.


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