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A home away from home: APSU’s Full Spectrum Learning program empowers students with autism

By: Ethan Steinquest June 20, 2024


Students in Austin Peay State University’s Full Spectrum Learning program get to know one another during a summer social ahead of the Fall 2023 semester. | Photo by Sean McCully

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - For students with autism spectrum disorder at Austin Peay State University, the Full Spectrum Learning (FSL) program is more than a support system - it’s a pathway to empowerment that allows them to confidently pursue their dreams.

FSL, part of the Eriksson College of Education, is Tennessee's largest program of its kind and has grown from 14 students in 2018 to an estimated 60 this fall. It offers classes with other participants, peer and faculty mentorship,tutoring, study and social hours, support meetings and more.

“The program is designed to support anyone coming to Austin Peay with a diagnosis of autism,” said Emmanuel Mejeun, FSL’s director. “We offer comprehensive resources designed to empower students to reach their full potential. Our support model is structured to enhance their academic performance, personal growth and social development.”

Students surveyed about FSL emphasized the community they gained through the program, describing it as a “home away from home” that “[makes] campus life easy” and helps them build meaningful friendships. They also credited the confidence and skills they gained with helping them through college.

Mejeun attributes the program’s success and growth to an increase in autism diagnoses and the dedication of the FSL team: Abegayle Goldblatt, program coordinator; Diamond Brant, community relations coordinator; and Colette Parrotte, learning specialist coordinator.

The team also works with a campus-wide network of partners, including the Woodward Library, Counseling Services, Career Services, the Student Disability Resource Center and various academic departments.

Expanding horizons: FSL strengthens support with fully certified team

FSL recently expanded from one full-time employee to four. Both Brant and Parrotte earned their IBCCES Autism Certification this month, making the full team certified specialists in working with students on the autism spectrum.

“One area I loved the most about the training was a section where a young lady talked about her experience with autism,” Brant said. “I love hearing those stories because everyone’s journey with autism is different. We always say if you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

Brant has nearly five years of experience with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy and volunteered as a peer mentor during her undergraduate years before accepting a full-time job with FSL, so she knows the importance of meeting students where they are.

“My student loved sports, so I focused on their interests and tried to incorporate them into everything we did,” she said. “Now we have a curriculum, with topics like making new friends or what the appropriate dress is when you’re going out.”


APSU students share their experiences with autism spectrum disorder during an educational panel hosted by Advocates for Autism. | Photo by Madison Casey

Brant now supervises a program with 15 peer mentors and counting for freshman and sophomore FSL students. She also organizes weekly social hours and advises Advocates for Autism (AFA), a student organization aiming to educate the campus community about the autism spectrum.

“The students in AFA are willing to step into the spotlight of leadership and put themselves out there, and every semester they create an autism forum,” Mejeun said. “The whole panel is made up of students with autism, and they’re brave enough to disclose their experiences and explain things that data can’t tell us. I learn something new from every forum.”

From classrooms to careers: FSL’s enriching curriculum

FSL students also have plenty of opportunities to connect in the classroom through a curriculum led by Parrotte, who has 20 years of experience teaching in public schools.

The courses are designed to be taken throughout a student’s college career and focus on academic responsibility, interpersonal and life skills, professional development and career readiness. There are currently four FSL classes, and a fifth is being piloted this fall to offer students practical job experience through volunteering.

“I see a lot of growth in the students as they take these classes, and you can see that light bulb go off when they realize how it all fits together,” Parrotte said. “We had our first Reverse Career Fair last spring with our students … and they’re starting to see they have the skills to do the things they want to do.”


APSU students engage with employers at the inaugural Reverse Career Fair, hosted by Full Spectrum Learning and the Student Disability Resource Center in February 2024. | Photo by Madison Casey

The Reverse Career Fair allows students to set up their own tables to greet and interview potential employers, creating a more comfortable setting for students with autism. FSL and the Student Disability Resource Center, in partnership with Career Services, will continue hosting the event each spring.

“We had 19 students participate, and you could see them standing taller, poised and selling themselves,” Parrotte said. "They were dressed in suits, they had their portfolios and they were talking to total strangers. That’s way outside their comfort zone, and they were selling it.”

Through survey responses, FSL students praised the program’s impact on career readiness, describing it as a “critical help” that encourages them to “step out of [their] comfort zone,” practice important skills and manage their responsibilities.

Parrotte also provides professional development training for faculty members to ensure they are comfortable working with students on the autism spectrum. That’s important because FSL students start working with faculty mentors in their junior and senior years.

“We have professors working in these fields [our students want to enter], and they can really help students tailor their portfolios and resumes,” Goldblatt said.

A space to unwind: FSL readies sensory room for students

To further support students this fall, FSL is opening a sensory-friendly room in the Woodward Library with fidget gadgets, bean bag chairs, sensory lights and more.

“We’ve already asked the students what they would want to see, so we’re creating it based on their needs,” Mejeun said. “The FSL sensory room is only step one. Our ultimate goal is to provide sensory rooms accessible to all neurodivergent individuals on campus. We are actively seeking grant opportunities to make this a reality, as we are committed to inclusivity and serving the entire campus community.”

These efforts support FSL’s mission to create an environment where students feel valued and understood, helping them thrive both academically and socially.

“I started with a few of our seniors as an advisor, and to figuratively walk with them through that commencement ceremony has been really rewarding,” Goldblatt said. “To see what Diamond and Colette have done has also been incredible, from the Reverse Career Fair to off-campus social activities. Our growth has allowed us to really make an impact in the community, and it’s great to see it all coming to fruition.”


Students in APSU’s Full Spectrum Learning program gather outside the Foy Fitness and Recreation Center. | Photo by Sean McCully

How to get involved

To enroll in FSL, students must meet APSU's standard admission requirements, have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis and schedule an interview with FSL staff to ensure the program’s support model aligns with their needs.

While the program costs $5,000 per semester for the 2024-25 academic year, Mejeun said all current and past participants have been eligible for 100% funding through a grant provided directly to students.

APSU students are also encouraged to get involved in the program as peer mentors by volunteering, interning or using their scholarship service hours.

For more information on FSL’s admission process, click here, and to learn more about the FSL Peer Mentor Program, click here.