Students find neurological care on campus

There are 89 students registered with Disability Resources and Services.

Samantha Kerr (left) works with Michael Hanowitz, the creator and facilitator of Social Xchanges, a social group for students on the autism spectrum. | SHEFA AHSAN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Luke Tomczuk felt like he was different from most kids in his kindergarten class.

“I was misbehaving,” he said. “For the first three years of school, I didn’t really adjust well. … I just remember getting in trouble a good amount of times.”

Tomczuk, a junior history major, has autism spectrum disorder. He was elected to represent the disability community in Temple Student Government Parliament last fall and works closely with students who have disabilities to hear their concerns on Main Campus.

Tomczuk is one of 89 students registered with Temple’s Disability Resources and Services with a neurological disorder. DRS aims to ensure an inclusive and comfortable environment at Temple for students with various disabilities, including deafness, blindness and neurological disabilities. There are staff members at DRS who specialize in working with students with these disabilities.

Tomczuk was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was 18 months old.

DRS Director Aaron Spector works specifically with students who have neurological disabilities to improve their communication skills through counseling, provide employment opportunities and offer academic help, like extended testing time and note-taking assistance.

Spector often meets with DRS-registered students who have neurological disabilities to talk about opportunities or challenges they’re facing.

Spector’s favorite recent memory is seeing Tomczuk get involved with TSG. He said he’s been meeting regularly with Tomczuk to discuss how he can best represent the interests of students with disabilities.

Spector admires the work Tomczuk has done with the Student Accessibility Task Force, a project by TSG designed to survey university buildings and grounds to identify access barriers, as well as within his Parliament seat as a whole.

“He’s taken advantage of every opportunity that’s been presented, and it’s exciting to see him grow into a leadership role,” Spector said.

DRS provides registered students with job opportunities at the Student Center and Campus Recreation. Employment at the Student Center includes jobs at The Reel, in the game room, at the information desk and building manager positions.

Kaitlyn Howarth, the operations manager of the Student Center, partners with DRS to create job opportunities for students with neurological disabilities. Howarth notifies the DRS team whenever there is a job opening at the Student Center.

“The level of unemployment or underemployment for individuals with autism is extremely high,” Howarth wrote in an email. “Providing employment for these students will help them build their resume, gain transferable skills and will make them marketable in the competitive job market.”

Tomczuk, who works at the information desk in the Student Center, got his job through DRS.

Nicole Hait, a junior economics major, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome before her freshman year of high school.  Asperger’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that falls on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. She currently works in the box office of the Liacouras Center.

At first, Hait felt ashamed and confused by her diagnosis — she didn’t fully know what Asperger’s was. Upon learning it was a form of autism, Hait immediately felt as though she was at a disadvantage from others her age.

“It definitely felt like a push-back,” Hait said. “That kind of definitely made me feel bad about myself when I was younger.”

After reading more about her disorder, Hait became more comfortable with her diagnosis.

“It wasn’t until probably the end of my junior year or beginning of my senior year when I fully started to accept that, ‘You know what, this is a part of me, might as well embrace it,’” Hait said.

For students registered with DRS, Spector often recommends several on-campus facilities and groups for further support and encouragement, like Tuttleman Counseling Services, the Center for Learning and Student Success, which offers support like tutoring and social groups.

Social Xchanges is a social group for students who fall on the autism spectrum, and is facilitated by Michael Hanowitz, who used to work at Tuttleman.

“Number one [goal] is to have fun,” Hanowitz said. “So I really do try to help them to make it as enjoyable as possible. I think the second most important thing is for them to connect to each other because they tend to be very lonely.”

Social Xchanges’ weekly meetings focus on the members’ social challenges and brainstorming productive ways to deal with these issues. The group also participates in weekly activities, like museums visits, movie theater trips, rock-climbing and mini-golf.

Spector said there are always improvements that can be made on campus for students with neurological disabilities.

Spector said that creating environments with lower stimulation on Main Campus would be more inviting to students with neurological disabilities.

Hait thinks the assistance at DRS should be advertised more among students.

“[DRS should be] just reaching out more to kids that are maybe afraid to go to DRS…[and] showing these people that it’s not a bad thing to ask for help,” Hait said. “[At first] I was afraid, but then when I reached out, it definitely made me feel better.”

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