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Dakota State brings awareness to autism with new program, guest speaker

Academics, Admissions

Megan Roddie“Don’t look at autism as a disability,” Megan Roddie told employers, faculty and students at the 2018 Dakota Con. “Focus on the assets their neurodiversity brings to the company.”

Roddie was one of the guest speakers at the 8th annual Dakota State University cyber security conference on March 23, presenting a talk titled “Strengthening your SecOps team by leveraging neurodiversity.”

Neurodiversity is something she knows about firsthand; the 21-year-old has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism (HFA). She is employed full-time as a cyber security analyst at the Texas Department of Public Safety; she is also a master’s degree student, studying digital forensics at Sam Houston State University.

HFA individuals bring many assets to the workplace, such as attention to detail and focused work. These advantages are available to employers at no cost, requiring only simple adaptations, Roddie said. Individuals with a neurodiversity need structure, clarity, patience and understanding, she said, “but in return, you get productive, thorough, dedicated employees.” 

Neurodiversity has been a popular subject at Dakota State this school year. In addition to the DakotaCon talk, DSU has instituted a new program for autistic students which has been featured nationally in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and regionally in a new video created by the University of South Dakota Center for Disabilities.

“It is a passion of President Dr. José-Marie Griffiths to see students on the spectrum succeed, specifically at DSU, but also in higher education in general,” said Jordan Schuh, student success counselor and autism specialist.

The Spectrum Strong program helps students adjust to college life by offering them extra resources, Schuh said, including a mentor program, one-on-one meetings with Schuh, and monthly social events. Wellness Wednesday is a seminar portion of the program. About 28 students are enrolled.

Roddie was impressed to hear about DSU’s program. “It is definitely the best thing to encourage the students and teach them how to reach out,” she said, because “it can be hard to ask for help.” The program is also a good step, she added, because “awareness is part of the solution.”

To create more awareness for autism, Dakota State University faculty, staff and students have been asked to wear blue on April 2, in support of those with spectrum disorders; April 2 is the 11th annual World Autism Awareness Day. Additional events will be planned throughout April, said Schuh, which is Autism Awareness Month.