A Closer Look at Misericordia’s Autism Center


Sarah Badorf England, Multimedia Editor

The integrated studies program at Misericordia’s Autism Center has been created to give individuals diagnosed with autism the opportunity to have an inclusive experience through the university.

Janine Kubasko-Starinsky, Autism Center director, said, “The integrated studies program is a 2-year certificate program where students with an autism diagnosis will come here and enroll. The students will take two instructional classes a semester and then an internship and study time with an academic coach.”

Misericordia students are given the opportunity to become mentors or academic coaches for the two individuals currently enrolled in the integrated studies program.

The Autism Center offers several different trainings so academic coaches and mentors are prepared for anything they may encounter on the job.

“We offer things like video modeling through the OT (occupational therapy) department so that we can learn the proper techniques and the proper approach on how to deal with behaviors,” said Kubasko-Starinsky.

Students who work for the Autism Center have the ability to help these individuals enjoy a comfortable transition for a traditional college experience.

Patience and the willingness to help are crucial skills to possess as a mentor for these individuals with special needs.

Lena Conway, junior occupational therapy major, was eager to find a way to help people with special needs while being away from home.

“My past experiences working with people who have special needs helped shape who I am,” she said. “When I came to Misericordia, I wanted to find a way that I could reach that community at school. When I found out the Autism Center started the integrated studies program, I wanted to be a part of it. I’m so thankful Janine, the director brought be on board.”

Conway and other mentors attend classes with the two individuals enrolled in the program. Their job is to help them with note taking, manage their schedules and help them complete their work.

The mentors also serve as the individuals’ first friend at the university and sometimes go to lunch with them after their classes.

“It’s important to know how to properly engage with these individuals and help them the best way that we can; it’s really great to get hands-on experience with them,” said Conway.

“The goal for these two individuals is to build the confidence to be independent, here at Misericordia and even after they are done with this 2-year program,” said Kubasko-Starinsky.

The integrated studies program offers individuals the opportunity to experience things at college that typical college students enjoy, even something as simple as living in a dormitory on campus.

This program is a place where the mentors can feel rewarded for the kindness and help they show these individuals, just by seeing a smile on their face.

“Last semester I talked to both of these individuals at our first meeting and they told me they liked to dance,” said Conway. “We decided to have a dance party for them; a lot of people ended up coming. Everyone had so much fun.”

Officials at the Autism Center plan to hold more events in the future to help the center become better known and to show the university what it has to offer.

The Autism Center will hold its annual speaker event from 4 to 7 p.m. April 20 at the Lemmond Theater where a panel of experts will be available to answer questions.  The event is open to the public and free of charge.

I’m so excited to have a nationally renowned guest speaker, virtually,” said Kubasko-Starinsky.

The Autism Center is looking to find more students who want to be part of the integrated studies program in the future and be part of the services it currently offers.

“We are in the process of marketing aggressively to the local high schools. We would like to eventually have more individuals involved. I’d like to get two additional students a semester,” said Kubasko-Starinsky.

Officials at the Autism Center feel it is important that more people become aware of its services so it can help families in need.

In addition to the integrated studies program, the Autism Center offers the ALL program (Autism for Lifelong Learning), an employment program where individuals from high school with a diagnosis of autism are referred through OVR (Office of Vocational Rehabilitation) and the office of disabilities program. OVR refers an individual to the center and the Autism Center assists in helping them find employment.