As the Law School seeks to project its institutional reputation, we should remember that we have national leaders in offices other than those occupied by folks with professor in their titles. One such leader, Jane Thierfeld Brown, has co-authored a 2009 book, Students with Asperger Syndrome: A Guide for College Personnel, published by Autism Asperger Publishing Co. (Her co-authors are Dr. Lorraine Wolf, Director of Disability Services at Boston University, and Dr. G. Ruth Kukiela Bork, Dean and Director of the Disability Resource Center at Northeastern University.)
The book provides some helpful introductory material that will familiarize the reader with basics concerning the nature of Asperger Syndrome,and the appendices provide deeper insight. But like any good book within a vast field, this one has a well-crafted plan to which the authors hew quite closely. They start by recognizing that many more students affected by Asperger Syndrome are now finding themselves enrolled in institutions of higher learning. So Jane and her co-authors wish to provide a primer to help those working in such institutions become better able to serve this unique population. Readers can quickly discern that this primer is no set of ivory tower prescriptions but is rather built on deep and valuable experience with countless students over many years. This experience leads to an organizational structure around the very real problems that those who work in disability services ("DS") at colleges and universities must confront. How can these DS workers cope with the helicopter parents that such students often bring with them? (Jane coins the phrase "commando parents" to reflect those even more supercharged. I prefer "paratrooper parents." Helicopter parents hover. Paratrooper parents land.). How can DS workers get a handle on the unique academic challenges that Asperger Syndrome students may face? How can DS workers be helpful with respect to both academic and co-curricular activities? What legal regimes and what sorts of accommodations must DS workers master to serve this population? What special issues are posed by the living arrangements, dorms etc. for Asperger Syndrome students? How can DS workers anticipate the problems these students may face when the confront the world of work? And, how can DS workers work effectively with faculty members to ensure the students have a good experience? I'm sure our colleagues won't be surprised to read Jane's sage advice:
"It is possible to alienate faculty members by demanding or insinuating that if they do not do things in a particular way they are violating the university policy or even the law. Clearly this is a bad approach. Professors work most effectively with students with Asperger Syndrome when they are respected as colleagues, and not when they feel they are being given commands about how to run their classrooms" (p. 168 emphasis added)
I am proud that a book so clearly helpful to many struggling with an important social problem was written partly on our campus. As Jane and her co-authors conclude, with proper guidance these students have an enormous amount to contribute. And, our country simply cannot afford to squander such potential. I need not rely, however, on my own impressions. If you type "leading expert on Asperger Syndrome into Google, you will find one name - Tony Attwood. He liked Jane's book so much he has agreed to write the foreword to the second edition. Congratulations Jane.