St. Norbert College recognized for supporting students with autism

DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) - A program at St. Norbert College receives national recognition for its support for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The De Pere college is listed as one of the best small colleges in the country for students with ASD by Applied Behavior Analysis Program Guide.

At St. Norbert, Hannah Baur deeply appreciates her friendship with fellow senior Madelyn Martin.

"Talking with her in person is very special. Making that connection is very nice," says Baur.

Baur is autistic and one of 10 students in St. Norbert's ASD Support Program, where students like Baur are matched with a peer mentor, like Martin.

Twice a week they meet for a half hour to talk about everything and anything.

"Social situations that have occurred, friendships, we've gone over even things like dating, we go over school activities, joining clubs, employment readiness, applications, resumes," says Martin, adding that along with the friendship, the program is a great educational opportunity for her as she pursues a career in social work.

Another key element to the program is a monthly social event with all the students in the program and their mentors.

"They go out to eat, they might go to a movie, they might go to a basketball game, might do a game night, something like that, but it really is taking it from the individual one-on-one to then the next level up to meeting with a group of students," says Bruce Robertson, St. Norbert College director of counseling and career.

Robertson started the ASD program in 2014 after a couple from Wausau, Todd and Camille Nicklaus, contacted him and pledged to financially support it.

Their oldest son is on the spectrum, and they knew the fears parents like them had sending their child off to college.

"A lot of it was that, worried that their child would socially maybe not fit in or be active on campus, worries such as, 'Will they have a roommate?' We just thought this would be the perfect environment for students to take that next transitional step between leaving home and then going out on their own," says Camille Nicklaus, a 1987 St. Norbert graduate.

"Giving back -- that's what's really important, and then to be able to do it to something that's very specific and see the fruits of what you've started is really, really cool," adds Todd Nicklaus.

Bucking national statistics that show students with autism have a higher rate of dropping out of school than others, St. Norbert has not had one since the program started.

As for Baur, who plans to pursue a career in business with a non-profit, she says the program has changed her life.

"Even if you do have autism it can also help you to grow as well, you don't have to let it bring you down, can let it bring you up instead and make it your strength," says Baur with a smile.