The Community College, OSS, and Me: Autistic Students Needs a College Village

A few weeks ago, Ian and I sat down at his computer to review the options for summer classes at the community college. I scrolled through the options in the Information Technology and Computer Science majors, each with their own seven digit number and a hyperlink to a course description. We sorted through the in-person, online synchronous, and online asynchronous options to find a class that might work out with his summer schedule. Ian has a better understanding of the lingo behind college — syllabus, credits, semesters, majors, requirements, course guide, register, add/drop — than he did when we started last September, but he still can’t independently sign up for classes. 

After I “suggested” a class for him, we attempted to register for the class. I clicked the right button, but got an error message. So, I helped Ian write an email — correspondence with college personnel still requires some support from me — to the Office of Specialized Services to request help from an advisor. What is the Office of Specialized Services (OSS) and why did we turn to them to sort out this bureaucratic mess?

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27 thoughts on “The Community College, OSS, and Me: Autistic Students Needs a College Village

  1. You’re right, that for many community college students, our own registration process is the biggest barrier to continued enrollment. Few places, in my experience, get it right. At our CC, the staff of what we call the Access office, the office for students with disabilities, become the academic advisors for those students and do the course enrollment for them when they can’t. It made a huge difference for our daughter when she was a student there. Many colleges use Banner as their “enterprise” system, and its enrollment side is clunky if not focused in a way that makes it student-friendly. Our enrollment processes haven’t changed in 20 years, alas. And we know it is one of the reasons we do not retain students, disabled or not.


  2. Did you tweet/share the link about the community college that had developed a registration system that mapped out pathways to different degrees based on classes selected? I’m trying to remember where I’d seen that. I think it might have included an older english as a second language student as someone who was being kicked to the curb by her CC system because of issues with registration?

    I entirely agree that this kind of bug, non-specific error message without information on how to circumvent, absolutely disrupts students, including just knocking them off the bridge. The problem also seems like it should be fixable. Some students might need the labor intensive intervention of a person to help them, but many students might be able to navigate an informative error message.


  3. If I can’t figure out the class registration system, then that’s bad. Even if the students don’t have Ian’s issues, typical community college students have their own obstacles, including lack of time, full time work, families. They don’t have the time to do what I did, which is make phone calls, write emails, and show up in person to bust through the problems.

    Ian’s community college uses some course guide/registration system that was created by committees using stupid lingo that students don’t understand and by bad programmers who add too many bells and whistles because they can’t resist showing off their programming skills. Even without problems, like Ian’s testing problem, the system is extremely clunky.

    The advisor that the OSS office assigned to Ian wasn’t terribly helpful. It still required a lot of work to get him enrolled. And when she spoke to him, she talked loudly, like he was deaf. Idiot.


  4. The poorer a university/cc is, the crappier its registration system is. Our regional state comprehensive is just now switching to an “enterprise” type system, don’t ask me what that means but it’s been state of the art for at least a decade; as I understand it, we have been using something someone here designed in the 1980s. You would not believe what the students’ official records look like – there is an incredibly arcane system only the advisors understand how to read or update.

    In your post you were dismissive of the disabilities support people at the CC, and while that may be true there, here we had two fantastic, forward-thinking, well-trained people, so they are out there. Of course they got hired away when layoffs and cutbacks started here.

    One thing you might suggest to parents, once they have gotten the student to waive FERPA rights, is to ask professors to cc them on any correspondence to their student. I might not be comfortable providing updates to a parent that the student didn’t know about (though I might; it would depend) but ccing is easy and might accomplish some of the things you need. They may even be able to bcc you on whatever goes out to the class.

    Parents definitely have to get the student to disclose to the professor, because we are not allowed to ask a student if they have a disability or really even suggest the DRC (though I wind up kind of doing that in more subtle ways). And, as you mention, the DRC is not supposed to tell us diagnoses, just inform of what accommodations are appropriate/required/recommended.


    1. Ugh. So sad that accomplished people don’t last in places that are needed the most. I want to write about the brain drain of the best state-funded employees — from teachers to IRS accountants — to the private section, which has just massively raised salaries/benefits. I do that on Friday.


      1. My wife is also getting ready to leave school based work for private practice. She is the only general mental health provider for over 1500 students in a 2000 student high school. ( The other 500 are kids in special Ed, autistic kids, or kids otherwise entitled to care via special programs.). The link to that article about the autistic high school student who needed an autistic adult to get things set up so he could succeed resonates with things my wife has told me about working with her students.

        The school just doesn’t want to meet kids where they are. My wife gets pushback for things like letting kids take a nap in her office (these are kids who work 30+ hours a week, take AP and college classes to reduce their cost of college and take care of younger siblings.). They often come to school on only 3 hours of sleep a night and a 30 minute nap lets them get through the day. These are often straight A students. Sometimes they just come in and cry because it’s the only place they can be a kid.

        She has gone to bat for kids with anxiety to be allowed to use soothing music on their iPhones to get through their days. Often she just tells them to hide the one earbud/cord under their hair. (During tests all phones are put on the front desk so kids won’t be cheating) These kids don’t have access to therapy or medication.

        She’s pushed back on automatic suspensions for fighting when kids have just lost a family member to gun violence (often in events where the student witnessed it) to no avail and unfortunately most of those students have not returned.

        She’s burnt out doing all this for less than 60K.


      2. Sorry to hear that the work has become unendurable, significantly because she can’t do the work she needs to do because of understaffing and administrative barriers. I am hearing from other carers, teachers, nurses, public aid lawyers in similar distress.

        I really don’t see where this is going to end with the world of conflict we live in now.

        I’ve hated Disney’s special governing authority in Orlando since high school (when I read an article by a socialist about it) and am in some degree of shock that what might end it is is weak statements on gay rights. I’m always looking for historical context, but what is happening now? Are we retreating to civil war times, aided by the electoral college, the unequal representation provided by the Senate and deep intractable divisions?


      3. I have no idea where things are going. Between culture wars and lack of resources, I think we’re going to see vast privatization of public goods. The vulnerable will get totally screwed.


      4. Our school district just announced that they are planning 3 tiers of start times for elementary schools because they can’t staff the yellow busses and don’t think they’re going to be able to (7:30, 8:30, 9:30 AM). The drain is everywhere (if you can drive for more money at Amazon, why wouldn’t you?).


      5. Absolutely. And schools can’t compete. Our superintendent said at the last BOE meeting that if he raised the salaries of aides from $13 to $15 per hour, it would cost the district a quarter million dollars. But without aides, the schools cannot operate.


      6. Last week the entire Board of Selectmen (and yes, they are all men) criticized the proposed school budget that’s going up for vote at Town Meeting next month. One of them actually said (paraphrased) “We gave you an addition to one of the elementary schools, and now you want another second grade teacher there?” *headdesk* Another one said “it is unsustainable for the taxpayer to have an increase of 2.3% in the school budget.” These guys are ridiculous and all the parents will turn out and vote against these idiots at town meeting, but it’s representative of a kind of thinking that is about not seeing the value of schools or school employees.


      7. Same here. Same everywhere. We have members of our board of Ed who send their kids to private schools. They refuse to give schools an extra dime.


      8. Funding doesn’t seem to be the issue in our district — we certainly don’t have Board members who don’t want to spend and our levies pass handily (in the city — rural schools struggle, especially with capital levies, and the state does not support rebuilding/fixing schools). We are limited in the money that the city can raise (as part of the WA state constitutional funding case, local districts were limited on the size of their levies.

        I see ads here for playground monitors at $17/hour & paraprofessionals at $28/hour (and our minimum wage is $15/hour). And I think there is still a struggle to hire.


      9. Same here. Same everywhere. We have members of our board of Ed who send their kids to private schools. They refuse to give schools an extra dime.

        Does the board of education *have* the power to generate extra revenue? In our county they are given their budget by the county council. They can ask for more or less money or not, but they get what they ultimately get.


    2. af said “ask professors to cc them on any correspondence to their student. ”

      And, if they won’t (or don’t) you can just set up your student’s email program to automatically forward all emails from Xy addy to you….
      Works a treat for my high-schooler (though he gets a bit grumpy when I remind him about deadlines that he’s been ‘conveniently’ ignoring)


      1. I’ve had terrible experiences doing this and have never gotten it to work well (though in my case, I was trying to send emails from my box to my kids rather than the other way around because I didn’t want to deal with them and they could do it, if they had them).

        A failure on my part once resulted in all my daughter’s emails (including the ones she sent to her dad — don’t ask — I was terrible) being sent to a spam folder so that he never received them.


  5. I get very frustrated when a problem (the online registration) seems to be a fixable problem and no one fixes it. Say, the big ed tech pushes at the foundations, which aim at very hard to fix problems (how to teach reading to struggling students, teaching without teachers, . . . ) and are hard to evaluate and maybe cause harm v investing in a one time big project to make a college registration program that works (properly gives pre-reqs and paths to graduation and degrees) and maintenance money for the program?

    Also, there should be more attention to pre-requisites and pre-testing and whether they are required for the path (mind you, I do think there should be disclosure — say, if a tech certificate is achieved without passing a language test) and better alignment (is language proficiency best proved with analysis of intent in a story? is math proficiency best displayed with understanding of calculus?)

    Those investments are more important to me than free tuition (which I fear would be used to create hoop-jumping degrees that didn’t really improve the lot of the student, especially if attached to the ability to borrow for living expenses).


  6. Oh, super fun, the wordpress related link is to a post titled “Disruptive Technology: Can the computer and tech crowd disrupt higher education?” and details Ian’s foray in to photography & photoshop.

    And, yes, I would love to see those tools taught in a way that allows people with asynchronous abilities to exploit them into useful labor involvement and I do think that the tech companies could be involved.

    But, still, can’t they fix the registration system?


    1. “But, still, can’t they fix the registration system?”

      No, they can’t. I work extensively with advising and student registration, and the number of times I’m told something can’t be done because of Banner is depressing. I spend a lot of time explaining to students how to use the system effectively.

      Cornell has actually developed a way to “search courses differently”: but that addresses only about 1/100th of the problems.

      E is struggling a bit with understanding his system, and of course he will not listen to me, and it’s hard for him to ask for help (pragmatic speech) on campus so….


      1. I feel like this is a fixable problem though. What if the programmers for Twitter or Amazon were given this as a side project for three months? Or is the problem bigger than that? Are the real problems the all the little fiefdoms in colleges with overlapping departments and redundant classes and the lack of oversight. At Rutgers, there are three different ways to get a degree in environmental engineering.


      2. Hmh, can see why the paths and the different ways you can get a degree and the different departments that might benefit or be effected negatively might be a bar to the “path to a degree” implementations. Also there are the waivers and special tracks.

        I recently read a few blogs of, shall we say, students with a lot of brain space to spare who earned CS bachelors & masters simultaneously at Brown U, which requires taking the classes for a undergrad CS degree and for a masters simultaneously (as well as satisfying the breadth requirement of taking classes that don’t support the degree). They post lists of the courses they took, and, they have to get approval on individual courses from the CS department chair. I can see why that can’t be programmed into the system — they don’t want to.

        I guess similar battles might arise at community colleges?


    2. No but my rant is about whether they “can”, not whether they “will”. For those of you who deal with the systems regularly, is it a “hard” problem (not in the mathematical sense, but in the real life sense).

      Kiddo has dealt with her registrations with glitches but no required help from us, but she also chose a curricular path that pretty much allows her to take any class she wants, so does not deal with the issues associated with rigid scheduling and paths.


  7. Semi-related but there have been some really good recent posts on the “Autism Discussion Page” run by Bill Nasan on facebook about how to prepare your older child for independence. I really like his books and articles and today’s post seemed really relevant to the stage you are at with Ian.


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