College Transitions for Different Brains with Mitch Nagler from Adelphi University | EDB 65


In this episode, Harold Reitman, M.D. speaks with Mitch Nagler, director of the “Bridges to Adelphi” program at Adelphi University. Mitch explains the services the program offers to the neurodiverse to ease their transition into college life, highlights the importance of fostering self esteem in students, and gives tips for anyone with autism– or any other brain that may work a bit differently- on how to begin a successful academic journey.

For more about Adelphi University, and their “Bridges to Adelphi” program, visit: http://bridges.adelphi.edu/

And check out their brochure here

 

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HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR):

Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman, welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains, today we go up to New York, where at Adelphi they’ve got a special program for those of us whose brains might be a little bit different and I have the man who’s in charge of it Mitch Nagler, right here with us, Mitch welcome to Exploring Different Brains

 

MITCH NAGLER (MN):

Thanks Hackie, thanks for having me

 

HR:

Tell our audience what you do there, the name of the program and what’s going on

 

MN:

So, the name of the program is “The Bridges to Adelphi Program”, it’s designed to support college students who self disclosed with autism spectrum disorder, or some other neural disorder. We currently have a 100 students enrolled in the program, we do not accept students into the program, they apply to the University, if they are accepted at the university they choose to enroll, then we take them in. So having autism spectrum disorder diagnosed is not conditional, but most of the kids on the program do have that, as well as lots of other stuff going on.

 

HR:

Well, you bring up an interesting point right of the bat, which is getting the individual to self identify What are your findings with that?

 

MN:

So the stigma preceded us, it’s been there you know most of their lives, if not all of them, and one of the reasons we don’t… there’s a variety of reasons we don’t ask for a proof of diagnosis; first of all I’m not that interested people’s diagnosis, I’m not dealing with what I refer to as whole objects, I’m dealing with people. If they’ve been stigmatized in the past and they’ve gone through their life with this label on or sealers they have, I don’t want them to feel that way here. So, we have 100 different kids in the program, the goal is to run a 100 different programs, so I make that clear to everybody when they come in. Some people surprisingly are very interested in proving to me that they do have spectrum disorder, other people are less likely to mention it, but again, it doesn’t matter to me. We are trying to figure out what we need to do to help people be successful in college. My experience is that for most folks, and again when you talk about folks on the spectrum is never always the same, it’s never, and it’s never always and it’s always sometimes; but most folks on the spectrum need a properly designed program that can help them with their variety of problems that they may present. it could be anything from executive functioning anxiety, to processing delays to other learning disabilities, we try to see from the students that we work with to 360 degrees so we got a pretty good idea of what we need to do to help.

 

HR:

And you got a fella up there, a good friend of ours who we’ve interviewed on Exploring different Brains- Steven Shore is up there in Adelphi.

 

MN:

Steven is a good friend of mine and a good friend of the program, he’s been a valuable resource for us as we built the program

 

HR:

What do you find out Mitch to be the biggest challenges for you up there?

 

MN:

Well again is not any one thing, handling a 100 students, and their parents and having everybody understand the difference between high school and college, you know they talk about the transition issues for the students and understanding the difference of what’s expected of them between high school and college but you know, the parents expect a lot also and having them understand how much input they can have and all sort of control that they are gonna have to deal with it is an issue as well; faculty, you know, staff you know an issue for us is that the way the program’s designed and I think one of the reasons that it’s been so successful, is that the staff is all current graduate students at Adelphi university, so there’s… they are getting their graduate degrees in helping fields like psychology or social work or communication disorders and the relationships that are are throughout the staff and the students, is really unique because there is not this great age difference, and they are not professional educators or coaches or anything like that, and that’s great; the problem is that half of them graduate every year and I have to rebuild the staff. So you know, training and developing staff is a big issue, I’ll say that.

 

HR:

Can you transfer your culture to say a business?

 

MN:

Yes, crazy for me to do that because I’m a retired businessman, so I’d like to think that I see things in big pictures, academia is not necessarily a place where that occurs naturally. So, I’m way into program building, and as I build a part of the program, realising oh well that’s the next thing that I need to see, we are recently realising that retention and GPA which I originally thought would be the goals of the program, which are very successful one. We have almost 90% retention rate, and an average GPA year after year after year about 3.3, but I realised that the goal is not that, the goal is to help the students get successful careers when they graduate, so that they can live independent lives. That is a huge challenge.

 

HR:

I’m finding the transitions are one of the toughest things and one of the biggest transitions for those lucky enough to go after college, the transition to college which is what you’re handling.

 

MN:

Yeah, there’s huge transitions, you know what’s expected of you in high school is way well different, in high school mom and dad have done a great job getting the kids services, they are very involved in maintaining that, in getting new services and services are deliberate to students In college you can get a lot of the same services, but they are offered and students have to be… have to come and get them. we are not bringing the services to the kids, we are asking them to come and get them.

 

HR:

So you work closely with the office of disabilities?

 

MN:

Very closely, very closely, but still, you know the rule in this college is that if you have extended time or distraction reduced environment for an exam you have to simply request at least a week in advance of each exam. Now, we help the students through that, but that’s very different than in high school. In high school got the students there “come on let’s go you are gonna have the exam in this room over here with this person proctoring it. Now they have to be able to file the form and again we help them with that, but they have to submit a form a week in advance, every time they have an exam, that’s a big difference. Even the services that we offer, we offer… we offer really comprehensive, academic, social and vocational services, to the students enrolled in the program, but they gotta come to the office and meet with their staffers and tell us the truth.

 

HR:

It’s tough, it’s tough

 

MN:

Yeah

 

HR:

Well, let’s go back in time ‘cause you came from a business background and everything, let’s go back in time when you started the “Bridges to Adelphi Program”, how you’ve gotten that support?

 

MN:

Well, so back then I just received my masters degree in psychology and I met somebody who worked for a family service organization who came to me, I was actually working in a drug clinic at the time as all good graduate students in psychology do, and I met somebody who had a grant to provide services to college students but didn’t even know that college students needed this services. They knew that the students were getting them in middle school and high school, but they didn’t know if there was anything going on in college. And I ran around the tri-state area for a year and I finally came back to Adelphi university where I’ve gotten my masters, and I met with the woman in charge of disability support services at the time, Carol Lukas, and Carol said to me “oh my God I can’t believe that you are here, we know that we have kids on the spectrum and we know that we are not managing them correctly, would you be willing to be the on campus support service for students on the spectrum?” and of course I was delighted to say yes to that offer so and that was in 2007, and they referred 3 students to me. And I worked one on one with those 3 students, essentially executive functioning issues and on managing anxiety, and the next semester they referred 3 more students to me and then the word got out on campus and I started getting more referrals, and then I started going out into school districts and talking about local school districts and talking about what I was doing. And before I knew I had 40 kids on the program. and it became a Fee-for-service program in the spring of 2012 we had 50 students in the program, and then in some weird psychology experiment, as soon as we started charging for it, more people started getting interested in it, and I guess it gave a greater value, and we got onto the internet and I wrote a couple of articles for a publication, one with Steve Shore, and you know, now we’ve got a 100 this year and I’m expecting a 120 in the Fall.

 

HR:

Wow that’s great growth.

 

MN:

The amount of money doesn’t seem to be the issue, because there’s not a whole lot of options for them to come to a designed program for folks on the spectrum and our outcome is so good that it sort of sells itself. So you know, this helps me get also, helps me get services added from the university because we are charging money for the program but we also keep kids in the school and we also create very positive regard in the community to the university because of the good work that we do and helping the kids get into careers and internships in the community

 

HR:

What kind of research is going on to measure your outcomes?

 

MN:

So, well obviously we are doing GPA and retention, we also do measure self-esteem, semester to semester. We measure the students’ self esteem and we are trying to figure out if the tendency in meetings and social events correlates with the grades and the self-esteem.

We also do a mindfulness training every semester, and we do a pre and post on that, and now we are gonna start doing following by graduation if they are working in the field that they studied in and the level of satisfaction at their job. But that’s what we are building out right now Hackie, we are really building out the whole post graduation program. I’m developing a job placement service in the program where we are gonna have somebody work out in the field, identifying careers and places where the students can work and work with the employers to help them understand the benefits of hiring people on the spectrum and then to job coach both the student and the supervisor, when the students are out there. And that’s really… that’s really what’s next for me, getting the kids out there; because you know the existential crisis that we all are is what happens when mom and dad aren’t around? who’s gonna take care of the kids? and for moms and dads and students on the spectrum, there’s a much more present danger and much more anxiety provoking crisis than it might for parents of neural-typical kids and so I feel a real strong ethical obligation not to take them through 4 – 5 years of college and then send them home to play video games, I feel a real obligation to create a real job placement on the organization where we are going to help them get jobs, we are gonna job coaches, we are gonna get them out into the community, and collaborate with the community.

 

HR:

And I think the corollary to that is developing… for a lack of a better word I’ll call it the “alumni system” the “alumni support system” because that’s what happens many times even forgetting about the neural diverse individuals, we find like you know we have a 90% graduation rate at the boys and girls club but then what happens when they go after college and they lose the support system?

 

MN:

Right, so the same thing here, same thing here…

That’s when you asked me way back when, what’s the challenge? that’s the challenge, because we are really really good at helping them be successful in school and something else that you mentioned about value, and we talked about value; something that I think about as a therapist is that the number one indicator of a positive outcome in therapy is not whether or how much you charge, but if the client believes that the therapist can help. It doesn’t matter what my psychological orientation is, or where practice or who I am, they believe in me and they believe that I can help, if the outcome of therapy is usually pretty good. It’s the same thing here in this program, if those students who likely were stigmatized, I believe that most of the kids I work with have post traumatic stress disorder. They’ve all been bullied and teased and stigmatized horribly by peers, by teachers, by their families. If we can get them to believe in the services that we are offering and believe in the staff and trust us and be able to say the magic words which are “I need help”, if they buy in, then we have amazing outcomes. If they don’t buy in and they are reluctant or resistant or just sort of what I call illogically concrete, like what they are thinking makes no sense, but if they buy in and they allow us the honor of helping them then it’s an amazing thing.

So, we need people, we need students to trust us, that is a huge challenge as well; forget the students to trust us, they have to understand we are not their parents and we are not gonna judge them and our sole goal is to help them be successful, unconditional positive regard.

 

HR:

For those in our audience how do they find about more what they are doing in Adelphi?

 

MN:

Well, they can just look that up on the internet, it’s bridges.adelpha.edu, I think if you google college programs for Aspergers or autism, we are probably at the top if not the top one automatically, we are pretty easy to find

 

HR:

Oh cool, well I’m going to read something from your site for our audience, “if you are a student who has autism spectrum disorder, a non verbal learning disability or problems with socialisation, you may feel anxious about the many differences between high school and college, The Bridges to Adelphi” programs individualize comprehensive academic social and vocational services that are designed to make that transition easier, this fee based program offers regularly scheduled meetings to help with executive functioning and time management issues, problem solving skills, and a wide variety of social opportunities in the website bridges.adelphi.edu – What would you like to add to that little summary?

 

MN:

Again, nobody is getting the same thing so that’s the frame, that’s what I call the frame, but everyday is a new day here and everyday we find new services that people need, or new ways to problem solve, it is the reason why we are successful, is that we take that approach. Again, I don’t care about giving diagnosis, I do not care about labels, I don’t even give the staff… at the beginning I used to give the staff neural psychological evaluations to read as if that would be helpful for them to frame and create an idea of how to work with the students. I don’t even give it to the staff anymore. I don’t read them myself unless there’s a problem, because I don’t want to be biased, I don’t want the staff to be biased, I don’t want anybody to think “oh (you know) I read this so this is what I’m getting”. I don’t like getting people into boxes, so yes that’s the frame, that’s what we do but it’s much more fluid than a statement.

 

HR:

What would you say the biggest single issue that you help young adults with?

 

MN:

Wow that’s a tough one, because again it changes… I think confidence in themselves, thinking positively about themselves, and not buying the message that because their brain is different then makes them somehow inferior, the best part of them is that their brain is different, is could come at some problems but it could come with some great gifts, and appreciating yourself is really important. It’s gonna be difficult for other people to accept you and appreciate you, if you don’t do that yourself, and so that’s the message that we carry a lot is that: students should appreciate who they are but accept their weaknesses but focus on their strengths, but they’ve gotten exactly the opposite message their whole lives, like we remind the students, these weaknesses are the biggest problem

 

HR:

Mitch, what advice would you have for a young person about to go to a college that does not have a Bridge type program?

 

MN:

To try to be a great self advocate, to try to have a great relationship with the disability support services office, to disclose to your faculty that you know, that not only you are on the spectrum, but if you are aware of what your particular issues are it s an executive functioning, is it time management, is it you know difficulty processing information, do you learn better when you hear something or see something or write something? these are all important things for a faculty to know about so that they can try and work with you. Most professors are human beings as well, and I think if the students would talk to their professors, I would encourage them to go to office hours to develop their relationship with their professors because I know, I’m teaching at the graduate school here I know that when students come to my office and talk to me, I like that student a lot, it’s only human nature, and I’m much more willing to work with them when I get to know them than when they are just a face at the back of the room. so disclosing to the faculty with a good place to start, and also if you can’t get up in the morning, if you have a problem getting up in the morning, don’t take an 8 o’clock class.

And if you never lived in a dorm, you know you might wanna think about what that means and the complications that that has and maybe start with taking two classes the first semester, your first semester; stay home maybe go to the community college even if you get accepted to a four year school, stay home, take two courses, figure out what the differences are, get to really good grades, because if you go away and in your first semester you really struggle and you don’t do well, that leaves a really bad mark and most of the students that I work with have had very successful high school careers, and their self-esteem is based on their academic success, even if they struggled socially they knew they were the smartest one in the room and if they come to college and they fall apart not necessarily on academic work, but on everything else that’s going on around it, social, you know executive functioning all the other transition issues if they struggle academically, that is a huge shot to their ego, and it takes a really long time to come back from that, so go slow, disclose, advocate, like that, that’s my suggestions

 

HR:

Well this has been great. Mitch Nagler keep up the great work you are doing there at Adelphi with your program “Bridges to Adelphi.” Thank you very much for spending your valuable time with us here on Exploring Different Brains. We’re looking forward to your blogs and future contributions to DifferentBrains.com, and I hope to get up there and visit you in person sometime.

 

MN:

That’d be great, I’d really love that.

 

HR:

Thank you very much.

 

MN:

Thanks Hackie, have a good day.

 

 

 

This video is owned by Different Brains Inc, kindly donated by it’s original producer PCE Media LLC.

Author Image
Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman is the founder of DifferentBrains.com. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, children’s activist, retired orthopaedic surgeon, and a former professional heavyweight boxer. He who currently serves as the CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based PCE Media, LLC, the multi-platform production company he founded in 2004. Dr. Reitman wrote, executive produced and co-directed the full-length independent film, “The Square Root of 2” (starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC’s “Scandal”), and is the author of the book “Aspertools: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity” from HCI Publishing. He also hosts the DifferentBrains.com interview show “Exploring Different Brains.”
Author Image

Harold Reitman, M.D.

Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman is the founder of DifferentBrains.com. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, children’s activist, retired orthopaedic surgeon, and a former professional heavyweight boxer. He who currently serves as the CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based PCE Media, LLC, the multi-platform production company he founded in 2004. Dr. Reitman wrote, executive produced and co-directed the full-length independent film, "The Square Root of 2" (starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC's "Scandal"), and is the author of the book "Aspertools: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity" from HCI Publishing. He also hosts the DifferentBrains.com interview show “Exploring Different Brains.”

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