URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Liam Crider has autism and says he’s still adjusting to the college setting.
“I’ve just navigated that, oh, it’s a new situation, it’s time to just go straight into it. I try not to worry about the social situations, I try not to worry about how I’m going to interact with my peers,” Crider said.
That’s where the Illinois Neurodiversity Initiative I-N-I program comes in, it helps students like Crider navigate campus.
In addition to autism, Crider also has ADHD. Being neurotypical affects his ability to socialize, but it doesn’t stop him from being him.
“Built different. You still built similarly, you still has the same mind as you, he just does things a little bit differently. He’s not going to hurt you, he’s not going to harm you, he’s just doing it his own way, gettin’ through life the way anybody else could,” Crider said.
His friend, Grace Pfiffer is also in the program. She said she has a hard time with decision making.
“I really struggle with wanting to make people feel comfortable around me and wanting to fit in,” Pfiffer said.
She wants others to think about the bigger picture.
“It can be hard for people to accept what they don’t understand, and so the more we’ve become aware of these conditions, and the more people have started branched into different ways of thinking about the brain,” Pfiffer said.
“Being able to know what you’re good at and know what you need support in, and how you tell people about that,” Jeanna Kramer said.
Jeanne Kramer is the director of the Autism Program. She focuses on self-awareness and self-advocacy with students and says people with autism shouldn’t come with a label.
The four-year program aims to help students on the autistic spectrum and other neurodiverse students of any major achieve success academically, socially and professionally. Some components of the program include a pre-employment seminar course and an academic strategies course their first semester.
“Most people in their freshman and sophomore year of college are going through that identity seeking process, and it’s been really an honor and privilege to be part of this part of their identity,” Kramer said.
Kramer had a hard time putting into words how important the I-N-I is to campus, especially for students who are new to college. As for Pfiffer, she says the recognition is special.
“It makes me feel good. It makes me feel seen, which is really helpful,” Pfiffer said.
“I hope people will take the time to get to know people who are different than they are to understand, really, what they bring to you personally and to the world,” Kramer said.
Kramer said that only 38% of college students who are on the autism spectrum graduate, making it hard for them to find jobs and other opportunities after college. But she wants everyone to know that students with autism are just like everyone else.