Developmentally Disabled, and Going to College

This might sound like a typical lesson in the age of anything-goes office wear, but these millennials aren’t so typical. Ms. Muscatello and her peers belong to a pioneering group of students with significant intellectual disabilities who are enrolled in Syracuse’s InclusiveU.

The students — about 60 are expected this fall — have various degrees of disability, often with related developmental disorders. One communicates through a picture board and an iPad; a helper supports her arm as she taps out words. Another, a movie buff who wrote a play for his theater class, has Asperger’s syndrome. A sports enthusiast who interned this past spring with the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team has Down syndrome.

During the first three years, the students choose “majors” and audit five to six college classes that align with their interests. They complete homework and take tests, ungraded, with the help of note takers, who are supplied by the university to sit with them in class. Popular majors: disability studies, sport management and food studies. Favorite classes: first aid, “Animals and Society” and “Peoples and Cultures of the World.” The students also take a spattering of electives, like hip-hop dance, jewelry-making and photography. For their fourth year, they intern on campus. All the while, they attend workshops — on email etiquette, workplace chitchat and résumé writing — and spend time with student volunteers at trampoline parks, basketball games and pizza parlors. The goal: to become employable.

Fifty years ago, young people with intellectual disabilities were often institutionalized or kept home, out of the public eye. Thanks to the 1975 Individuals With Disabilities Act, more than 90 percent of them now go to public schools with mainstream students.

And that, experts say, has altered expectations around what they ought to achieve.

Brian Skotko, the co-director of the Down syndrome program at Massachusetts General Hospital, sees 250 patients with the condition a year. He makes this observation: “Parents with newborn babies now want to know, ‘What are the possibilities for school? What are the college and independent living opportunities?’ ”

Photo

Bud Buckout, director of InclusiveU, helping a student in an internship preparation class.

Credit
Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

The hope for their children is that…

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