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Defiance College to Launch Program for College-age Students with Autism

January 22, 2014


Defiance College announced today the start of an innovative program to enable college-age students with autism to pursue a college education.  Under the program, which will begin accepting applications from qualified students immediately to enter Defiance College with the beginning of the fall semester in August, students will receive a broad range of comprehensive services to enable them to adjust to and succeed in a college environment. 

There are very few specialized college programs for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and Defiance’s new program, to be known as the ASD Affinity Program, breaks new ground in its approach to providing inclusive services to support academic, residential and social environments thereby providing a comprehensive living and learning environment for the students.  The ASD Affinity Program builds on Defiance College’s success with its Hench Autism Studies Program, in which high school students with autism have been receiving high-school level instruction on the Defiance College campus, in coordination with the Defiance City Schools.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer this new opportunity for college-age students with autism,” said Mark C. Gordon, president. “As a college, we already are committed to working with all of our students individually to tailor their educational experience to their own personal interests and goals.  This is a logical next step for us as a college, but, more importantly, it is a wonderful new opportunity for a group of students who have traditionally not had sufficient opportunities in terms of college. “

The new program will accept a limited number of college students each year who are academically qualified yet may require social and living support to navigate the traditional college residential campus.

“As the number of children diagnosed with autism increases, the need is greater than ever to provide for avenues of success into adulthood,” said Dr. Barbara Schirmer, provost. “Defiance’s ASD Affinity Program will assist students in reaching their full potential in a college setting.”

The Affinity Program will provide a quality academic experience with appropriate support services. The program seeks to foster independence for young adults with autism by providing a residential campus experience with numerous services in place to maximize opportunities for success and entry into the workforce.

Students accepted into the program will receive campus housing with live-in staff support and supervision by trained individuals; peer mentoring with advice on courses, co-curricular opportunities and other academic matters; faculty advisors within their area of study; and regular meetings with staff members.

The program will promote social and personal growth with the assistance of peer mentors, residence advisors, and instructional sessions.

The ASD Affinity Program will be directed by Dr. Clarissa Barnes, the director of Defiance’s Hench Autism Studies Program and an assistant professor of special education at Defiance College. 

Dr. Barnes earned a Ph.D. in Rehabilitation with an emphasis in Behavior Analysis and Therapy and her Master of Science in Behavior Analysis from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Western Michigan University and is also a board-certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral.

Dr. Barnes has more than seven years of experience working with individuals with ASD, ranging from early intervention to adult services. She has presented and co-presented in numerous professional settings as well as authored and co-authored journal articles and a book chapter.

“The ASD Affinity Program isn't designed to provide a college-like or parallel experience for students with ASD; it is designed to support students with ASD as they have a true college experience,” said Dr. Barnes. “The comprehensive services that we are offering will allow students with ASD to participate in all aspects of college life just like any other Defiance College student - from living in the residence halls to midnight breakfasts during finals week and everything in between."

The Hench Autism Studies Program, created in 2007 through the vision of Defiance residents Eric and Deb Hench, provides an on-campus public school classroom for adolescents with ASD, summer camp for adolescents and young adults, a resource center for families, specialized undergraduate peer mentor training, an undergraduate minor in autism studies, and licensure within the Master of Arts in Education program for intervention specialist.

Students interested in applying to the ASD Affinity Program should go to on the Defiance College website to begin the application process.  Additional questions regarding applications can be directed to Brad Harsha, Director of Admissions, at 419-783-2365 or

Defiance College, chartered in 1850, is an independent, liberal arts institution in Northwest Ohio offering more than 40 undergraduate programs of study as well as graduate programs in education and business. Defiance College has received national recognition for its educational experience of service and engagement. The college website is