Updated: Oct 28, 2020
By: Morgan Thweatt
When asked why his job was so important to him, Mitch Nagler – director of the Bridges to Adelphi program – said, “What is the point of diversity if you don’t have inclusivity?”
For more than 12 years, Adelphi University has been committed to changing the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum. Bridges to Adelphi launched in 2007 to provide an environment that catered to enriching the college experience for students with nonverbal learning disabilities like autism. The program has grown tremendously since 2007 and the graduating classes get bigger each year, said Nagler. He said that some students who have transferred into the Bridges program because they failed out of other schools due to lack of support, have been successful at Adelphi and have gone on to work full time for employers like Northwell Health, in the administrative offices on campus, and one student even created the AU to Go app!
There is no application to get into the program; rather students who have applied and been accepted into the university can choose to enroll.
“We aren’t interested in what a student’s diagnosis is,” said Nagler. “The students in our program are not Bridges students; they are Adelphi students, who are enrolled in the Bridges Program for additional support services.”
Nagler believes that every student should have the opportunity to get a career in their field of study when they graduate and has dedicated his time to funding vocational program growth, grant writing, scholarship funding, research and finding corporate partners for internships.
“The Bridges program gave me the foundation to be able to recognize and prepare myself for a professional career in addition to providing a friendly, social atmosphere to connect with others,” said Adam Brower, an alumnus of the program who is now a full-time staff member at Adelphi.
Next to Nagler stand a team of experts in autism across the full spectrum of diagnoses. One of them includes Stephen Shore, clinical assistant professor in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education, who you may recognize always wearing his Adelphi cap.
“Many people think it’s for fashion,” Shore said, “but for me, being under recessed lighting is like being underneath a spotlight.”
Shore was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and a half, during a time where there were even fewer resources for those on the spectrum. His parents were told he would have to be sent to an institution – the kind where children had to wear protective headgear out of fear that their “condition” would cause them to hurt themselves unintentionally. Knowing that was the wrong solution, his parents fought against it and Shore grew up going to school like any typical kid. Except he wasn’t typical, and learning did have its challenges.
He said that’s one of the reasons he loves Adelphi. “It is important to keep in mind that it is great to see Adelphi is in a leadership role in supporting autistic students at a collegiate level.”
Shore also serves as a member on the board for the Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association (AHA), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education, support and advocacy to individuals on the autism spectrum, their family members, and their educators. AHA holds its annual “Issues in Independent Living for Adolescents and Adults on the Autism Spectrum” spring conference at Adelphi’s Garden City campus and collaborates with the University on other programs.
But Adelphi’s dedication to providing a community for autistic individuals begins as early as 18-months-old. If you ever wondered what that little building with the playground is that’s tucked in the corner of campus as if its straight out of a storybook, that’s the Alice Brown Early Learning Center provides Pre-K education for diverse children, 25 percent of whom have special education needs including autism. Travel a little further down campus and you’ll find the Hy Weinberg Center for Communication Disorders, offering speech-language therapy to toddlers, preschool-aged children, adolescents and adults with an array of special needs. Additionally, the literacy and social training centers both provide additional support to high-school and college-aged individuals on the spectrum.
Adelphi University has created a path for autistic individuals to be successful and have the support they need in order to reach their goals. As Shore said, “We are working toward autism success being seen as a rule, and not as an exception. That is what makes Adelphi so special.”
Editor’s Note: This article was written before campus was closed and classes were moved online. Since then, the Bridges program has been working with Adelphi students to help them prepare for the transition; encouraging them to attend meetings with our staff on Zoom and understand the changes that have been made.