Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst
The mission of the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) is to facilitate and support the successful adjustment and progression of college students on the autism spectrum in all domains of college life, thereby broadening their vocational opportunities, and enhancing social and community engagement. The AIM program strives to accentuate each student’s abilities within the academic, independent living, social, emotional – vocational (AISE-V) domains, while building new skills within the domains where the student may be deficient.
The AIM program was established to support the vast influx of students on the autism spectrum that are applying to Mercyhurst and other universities worldwide in record numbers. The AIM program is housed in the division of Student Life and was originally housed in the Learning Differences Office. Since 1984, The Learning Differences Program at Mercyhurst University has educated and assisted thousands of students with disabilities to succeed in college; earn a degree and go on to make a difference in the world. In 2008, Mercyhurst introduced AIM to meet the unique needs of the growing population of college students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The AIM Program focuses on building a foundation of self-advocacy, social skills, and sound academic progress. Mercyhurst has become a leader and a resource for many other institutions across the country. Very few colleges and universities across the United States offer a program of collegiate support like AIM for this cohort of students. Too few are equipped to educate college and post-secondary students diagnosed with ASD.
Mercyhurst and the AIM program have become one of the primary resources in the country for autism support services in the higher education setting. The broad expansion of AIM’s success and large influx in applications to our program have surpassed even our strongest aspirations from when we started back in 2008 with just four students. The AIM program serves over 70 students on campus every academic year. Since the inception of the program we have added numerous components to AIM to enhance the experience and success of the AIM students on campus and after graduation.
AIM Enhanced Services
- Weekly AISE domain Assessment Meetings
- Peer Mentoring Programming
- Students are paired with Peer Mentors based on requested needs identified by the student and AIM team. Each mentor/mentee team is required to invest four hours per month of collaborative interaction. Students also have a reciprocal opportunity to perform in a mentor role for others with more severe disabilities.
- Priority for specialized housing arrangement (availability is limited)
- Students in the AIM program receive priority for specialized housing arrangements with a trained housing coordinator. This housing is optional and is a proactive opportunity for students to participate in a living learning community with individuals of like social aptitude and experience. Students participate in social activities and have the opportunity to live with a roommate in a two-bedroom apartment where they have the space to self-regulate and also have to demonstrate skills by co-existing in shared living conditions.
- Standardized social opportunities
- AIM staff chaperoned on and off campus experiences that connect our students socially and give real world opportunities to practice skill development.
- Independent living skill development.
- Access to optional meal gatherings to encourage socialization in the dining hall.
- Development of student-centered individualized behavior plans.
- Access to staff certified in PEERS (Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills) for Young Adults
- The AIM staff monitor academic performance weekly and have contact with faculty about participation and performance. A full-time AIM Academic Support Coordinator assists students in the program and facilitates study groups, study halls, and other academic supports for our students.
- Access to the AIM Career Path Program:
- Vocational resources that include:
- Vocational skill development
- Job Shadowing
- Assistance in obtaining internships and vocational opportunities
- Access to career specific resources
- Access to community and national resources that specialize in employment services for individuals on the Autism Spectrum
- Vocational resources that include:
- Access to partake in a variety of experiential and vocational travel that serves to broaden awareness of both the outer world and their inner self while raising awareness for autism-related various experiential and vocational travel that causes. Two previous examples include Conquer the Canyon with AIM and Raise the Roof for Autism.
How to Apply to the AIM Program
The AIM Program application is open with rolling admissions. The AIM application is separate and distinct to being accepted to Mercyhurst University. Before completing this application, you must submit your free online Mercyhurst application, as acceptance to Mercyhurst is required before applying for the AIM program.
To receive full consideration for fall admission to the AIM program, students are encouraged to apply to the AIM program by February 1. For applications received before the deadline, AIM admission decisions will be sent by April 1. Applications received after the February 1 deadline will be considered if/when additional program openings become available.
To be considered for admission to the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst, applicants must first apply as a student at Mercyhurst University. AIM staff will not review application information until the applicant has been accepted to the University. Admission to Mercyhurst University does not guarantee that applicants will be accepted into the AIM Program.
Applicants who wish to be considered for acceptance into the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst will need to complete the following process:
- Apply for admission to Mercyhurst University via our free online application.
- After receiving acceptance from Mercyhurst University, complete the AIM application.
- Applicants who apply to the program will be contacted by AIM staff to schedule an on-campus interview.
- Application materials will be reviewed by committee and applicants will be selected based on best fit for the program.
CREATE Summer Program
The CREATE Summer Program is a program where students live in residence halls, dine in the dining hall, enroll in a three-credit course, and interact with fellow students in various educational and social activities to assist students in their potential acceptance into Mercyhurst University.
CREATE is a nationally acclaimed summer experience (by application only) designed to help potential students determine whether they are ready for the demands of college life. Students live in a Mercyhurst residence hall, eat in the college dining hall, enroll in a three-credit college course, and interact with fellow students in a variety of social activities and settings. The students also participate in the College 101 Series and the Mini Lecture Series to familiarize them with college departments and expose the participants to different faculty and lecture styles. After completing the program, all students will receive a formal written assessment documenting their performance throughout CREATE. The report will highlight their strengths and/or weaknesses and make recommendations to support their transition to a residential college life as a full-time student
The 2024 CREATE session is scheduled from July 8 to July 26, 2024. Apply today!
How to Apply for the CREATE Summer Program
- Prospective applicants apply to the CREATE Program
- Applicants who apply to the program will be contacted by AIM staff to schedule an on-campus interview
- Applicants will be selected based on best fit for the CREATE program.
The CREATE Program application is separate from the University admissions and the AIM admissions application. Funding for the CREATE program may be available through your local vocational rehabilitation office. If you have questions, please reach out to the AIM Office at 814-824-2609.
In the News
- Autism Parenting Magazine
- NBC TODAY.com
- Brad McGarry Congressional Testimony
- Chronicle of Higher Education
- National Catholic Reporter
- Forbes Magazine
- Conquer the Canyon
- Raise the Roof for Autism
- Emerging Practices for Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum in Higher Education: A Guide for Higher Education Professionals, December 2014. Rochester Institute of Technology, Spectrum Support Program.
- Testimony before the 112th United States Congress: House of Representative Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, November 2012
- Contingency Contracting to Increase Class Attendance for a College Student with Asperger’s Syndrome
- Kristen Robson, Jonathan Ivy Ph.D, BCBA-D, Sara Kitchen MS, BCBA & Bradley McGarry, MA
- Conquer the Canyon with AIM – Successfully developed, implemented and concluded multiple Conquer the Canyon with AIM trips to Arizona and the Grand Canyon on May 2013, May 2015, May 2021, and May 2022.
- Raise the Roof for Autism – Developed and implemented two separate initiatives that took place in Tanzania Africa in Feb 2015 and January 2017.
Meet the Staff
Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst
Executive Director of the Brad McGarry Center for Neurodiversity