By Sam Anderson, Chattanooga, Tenn. — To celebrate their 25th Anniversary of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Disability Resource Center (DRC) hosted many events throughout October in the attempt to raise awareness of not only the struggles of those with different disabilities.

One of the many events was hosted by the DRC’s Mosaic Program, a program specifically for those with autism, called ASD through Our Eyes. It was a chance for students to learn about Autism Spectrum Disorder from people at different points in their academic careers. The panel shared their own personal stories and some of the struggles they have in a society created on the basis of unspoken social standards.

“The students that we have got accepted into the university just like anyone else did,” said Mosaic’s External Program Specialist, Jamie Butler. “They had to pass all the requirements such as GPA and SAT. They on their own merits are intelligent and capable. There’s this misconception that they are special needs, but the people we are working with are brilliant. They aren’t just smart they are above average intelligence, for the most part.”

“We actually had a Bill Gates Scholar in our program for a while,” said Assistant Director Amy Rutherford. “There are only 10 of those in the entire United States and we had one here in Hamilton County because of the Mosaic program.”

One of the many services the Mosaic program has to offer for students suffering from ASD is the peer mentoring program. Upperclassmen or graduate students have the opportunity to help plan social activities for freshman and sophomore Mosaic participants that will help them understand some of the confusing social standards society has.

“We ask that students on campus contribute to this process,” said Butler. “[Mosaic participants] meet one-on-one with a peer mentor. As they get to junior and senior year they start to meet with more faculty and more professionals to help them professionally.”

The Mosaic program is only one of 36 college programs aimed specifically at those with ASD. The founders of the program found that they had to go as far as having to write their own curriculum for teaching their students.

“It’s mainly because there’s not a lot out there for high-functioning adults,” said Rutherford. “A lot of it was very elementary focused, very childish. It had markers and crayons. Students didn’t really like it.”

How people handle and think of people with mental differences, especially autism, has become a very prominent. The CDC indicates that one in 68 American children are on the autism spectrum. Over the next 10 years approximately 500,000 young people with autism will move into adulthood. These people will be applying for housing, work and starting their own families.

It’s things that we don’t even think about,” said Butler. “We don’t have to deal with sensory overload, but they do. We’re here to help them learn how to communicate their needs. Things that just come naturally to us, they don’t have. It doesn’t make them deficient, it’s just how they process the world differently.”

“Eventually we would like to branch off from the DRC and become our own thing,” said Rutherford. “It’s a little confusing, because you do have to pay for service in the Mosaic program, but that fee allows us to go above and beyond what the law requires folks to do.”

Those looking to get involved can either contact Martin Davis to be a UTC peer mentor for the Mosaic program or donate to the Chattanooga Autism Center (CAC), a resource that provides many resources for those with ASD. The CAC will be hosting a two-mile walk for awareness on Nov 14th at 11 A.M. Those interested in becoming a part of the UTC team can contact either Amy Rutherford (Amy-Rutherford@utc.edu) or Jamie Butler (Jamie-Butler@utc.edu).

“The walk is what keeps their doors open,” said Rutherford. “It’s what brings in a large amount of their income.”