Goshen College’s neurodivergent students find valuable support and connection

Brooke Lemmon, who started teaching at Goshen College in 2015, launched an Autism Spectrum Disorder social group on campus in the fall of 2020 as a part of her PhD studies.

Amidst a growing awareness of neurodiversity in educational settings, Brooke Lemmon, professor of education and director of special education at Goshen College, stands as a beacon of advocacy and support for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). With a career spanning nearly two decades in the field of education, Lemmon has dedicated herself to creating an environment where neurodivergent students can flourish.

“College can pose unique challenges for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” said Lemmon. “But with the right support systems in place, they can navigate these challenges and thrive.”

Lemmon’s journey in the realm of special education began with her undergraduate studies at Indiana Wesleyan University. She honed her skills as a Mild Disabilities teacher at Model Elementary in Goshen for eight years and then earned a Master of Education degree in 2011 and a PhD in 2022 from Ball State University while working at Goshen College, with a dissertation topic of “The Extent to which High-Impact Ableism Training is Offered to Faculty at Institutions of Higher Education.”

“Brooke has been an invaluable colleague and resource,” said Kathy Meyer Reimer, professor of education and director of elementary education at Goshen College. “She cares deeply for our students, faculty and staff, and wants to provide a space that is welcoming, inclusive and productive for everyone.”

Driven by a passion for inclusivity and accessibility for all students, Lemmon launched an ASD social group at Goshen College in the fall of 2020 as a part of her PhD studies, five years after her teaching role at the college began in 2015. The group, initially composed of six members, has since grown into a vital support system for neurodivergent students on campus.

“There are several college-aged students who are only now realizing, ‘Wait, am I autistic?,’” said Lemmon. “It can be difficult to receive that diagnosis.”

The ASD social group is just one component of a comprehensive support program designed by Lemmon for autistic students at the college. The program, which is still evolving, encompasses five key elements:

  • Social Group: Meeting weekly, this group provides a safe space for students to discuss social, academic, and personal challenges, fostering a sense of community and belonging.
  • Disability Support Service: Through collaboration with the college’s Academic Success Center, students receive tailored accommodations to support their academic journey.
  • Campus Counseling: Access to mental health counseling sessions with campus counselors ensures that students receive the emotional support they need.
  • Faculty Training: Lemmon has offered training for fellow faculty members to better equip them with the knowledge and tools to create an inclusive learning environment for neurodivergent students.
  • Peer Mentoring: This component, still in development, aims to provide additional peer support and guidance for students navigating their academic and social experiences.

Lemmon’s dedication to advocating for neurodiversity extends beyond the confines of the classroom. She actively collaborates with campus stakeholders to make the campus more accommodating to individuals with sensory needs and addresses biases related to ASD in academic literature.

“Social group with Brooke has helped me understand that I read social cues differently,” said first-year Spanish major Salena Witmer. “It has also been helpful getting advice from other students in the group who have been here longer than I have.”

Through Lemmon’s innovative programs and inclusive mindset, she continues to champion diversity and inclusion at Goshen College.

“Goshen College is a diverse place in a lot of different ways,” said Lemmon. “Having trusted relationships with neurodivergent students has made me a better colleague and mentor.”