East Carolina University’s Autism Society is opening up a Peer Group to give students with autism the opportunity to connect with each other and form a community, holding its first meeting tonight at 7 in the Main Campus Student Center, room 206.
Mary Hannah Wilson, a junior majoring in speech and hearing sciences, and president of the Autism Society at ECU, said the peer group will be an organization centered around creating a community for students with autism. The organization will be member-led, with its members choosing the agenda for each meeting.
“The goal (of the peer group) is to see where the members of the peer group want to take it, so for example what social events they want to do and what kind of things they want to work on personally,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the direction the group is to take will be a point of discussion at the organization’s first meeting. There have been thoughts of a mentor program between the members of the Autism Society and the Peer Group or volunteer events. There are also planned social events once a month between the Peer Group and the Autism Society.
The Autism Society at ECU is a club that tries to raise awareness for autism and host fundraisers. Students do not have to have autism in order to join the Autism Society, and students who join will participate in volunteer work and service projects in order to benefit those who are autistic, Wilson said.
Wilson said that the Peer Group will decide during the first assembly how frequently it will meet, but it is currently assumed that the group will meet either once a month or once every couple of weeks.
Wilson said she wanted to create the Autism Peer Group in order to make a group catered for people with autism at ECU. Wilson said she doesn’t know of any other organizations on campus that are meant specifically for those who are autistic. She said she hopes the Peer Group will allow students to share their experiences with other students who are autistic.
Christopher Maye, a junior majoring in computer science and the Peer Group’s organizer, said the Peer Group is a group which is made to empower students who are autistic.
Maye said the Peer Group is an extension of the Autism Society at ECU. Students do not have to be part of the Autism Society at ECU in order to join the Peer Group.
Maye said the Autism Peer Group will have a support group where students who are autistic can talk with other people who are autistic. He said that the members of the peer group will be able to understand each other's day-to-day issues.
Maye said he wants to head the peer group in order to bring together all students on campus who are autistic.
“That is why I’m doing this is because I feel like the school could benefit from having something like the Autism Peer Group. There isn’t something like this that I’m aware of,” Maye said.
Aurora Shafer, a freshman majoring in speech and hearing sciences, is a member of the Peer Group. She decided to join the Autism Peer Group after deciding that other organizations on campus did not cater specifically to those who are autistic.
Shafer said she looked at other organizations on and off-campus but decided the Peer Group was the best fit for her due to the fact that it is a group specifically for those who are autistic.
“I’m excited to have people I can relate to that I can talk about certain things with. It’s gonna be interesting to talk to somebody who understands what I go through every day,” Shafer said.
Shafer said she is looking forward to having students her age who she can talk to about her everyday experiences.
Shafer said that the Disability Services Office at ECU was a major reason for her coming to ECU. She said that the office was the most accommodating to her as a student who is autistic. She said that the disability office truly focused on what students with disabilities would need in order to succeed.
“(The Disability Services Office) is just centered on me and my experience and doing everything they could to help me, and I don’t feel like I got that at any other college,” Shafer said.