Attending college is a challenging transition for all students.

For those with various disabilities, those challenges can be compounded.

That’s what makes a recent announcement from Mississippi State University more meaningful.

The university announced it is expanding a number of programs it offers for students who need assistance because of an autism spectrum disorder or other types of disabilities.

After receiving a $1 million grant from the Mississippi Department of Human Services last year, the university has been able to significantly increase the number of people served by MSU’s ACCESS program, its Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic and its autism liaisons program.

The ACCESS program, the state’s only postsecondary program for students with intellectual disabilities, is particularly noteworthy. It provides participants with complete college experiences, as well as a curriculum that encompasses independent living skills and internship opportunities. Upon completing the curriculum, and meeting grade requirements, ACCESS students graduate from MSU with a certification of completion.

The program began in 2010 with one student and grew to 10 last year. This fall, it anticipates having 23 students.

Not only are its participants getting to live on a college campus and receive a university-sanctioned credential – they are able to truly experience college life. Students in the program are involved in sororities and fraternities, they attend sporting events and even have a Student Association senate seat.

“The inclusion and acceptance across campus is beautiful,” Julie Capella, MSU Director of Student Support Services, said in the press release.

Meanwhile, the university’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic opened in 2014, when it was serving five children. Now, clinic personnel meet with about 100 children every week, hoping to fill the growing need for clinical services in North Mississippi.

Then there’s the autism liaisons program, which supports degree-seeking MSU students with autism. It was started a few years ago by MSU’s School Psychology Program and Disability Support Services. The program pairs students who have self-identified as having an autism disorder with other students for support. It has increased from assisting eight students to now helping more than 40.

In addition to DHS, these student and outreach programs have received support from the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and the State’s Department of Mental Health Services. Private donations for the programs also have been received.

Together, these programs are enriching the lives of so many individuals. Whether it is making it easier for those with an autism disorder to navigate college, providing rich experiences of college life to individuals with intellectual disabilities or providing services to a growing number of children, they are filling important needs.

We salute Mississippi State University, the Mississippi Department of Human Services and all of those who have made these programs a reality.

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