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Jane Thierfeld Brown ’79, M.A. ’81, M.S. ’86 Naiveté Can Take You Places

ABC News story on college students with Asperger’s, featuring commentary by Jane Thierfeld Brown.

Jane Thierfeld Brown’s career in disabilities services began serendipitously at URI: After working the summer of 1978 at a camp for people with disabilities, she returned to campus for her senior year and noticed wheelchair ramps being installed. The speech pathology major saw that the ramps were too steep and “naively” reported the problem to the president’s office.

To her surprise, President Frank Newman took her call and was so impressed that he put her on a newly formed campus accessibility committee. She did such a good job that on the day after commencement she was appointed to the new position of handicapped services specialist. In 1979, Brown says, URI was one of only about 20 schools with such a position.

“Naiveté can take you places,” attests Brown, now director of Student Services at UConn’s School of Law. She is also a consultant and speaker on college students with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism characterized by normal to above-average intelligence, a tendency to hyper-focus on particular topics, and difficulty reading social cues. She and colleague Lorraine Wolf recently published Students on the Autism Spectrum: A Guide for College Personnel.

Ironically, Brown’s youngest child was diagnosed with autism in 1995 at the age of three. Informed by both personal and professional experience, she brings a unique perspective to her work. “Spend 24 hours caring for someone with special needs,” says Brown, and you “understand the challenges on a very different level.”

In the last two decades, awareness and diagnosis of autism and Asperger’s have increased. The USCDC estimates one in 150 children has an autism spectrum disorder. The number of college students with Asperger’s is increasing as these children reach college age. “Many students with Asperger’s are very high functioning and therefore likely to go to college,” Brown says. Her message to colleges and universities: Be ready to teach and support this unique population so they can succeed in college and beyond.

—Barbara Caron

5 comments to “Jane Thierfeld Brown ’79, M.A. ’81, M.S. ’86 Naiveté Can Take You Places”

  1. John Boulmetis comments:

    Hello Jane,

    This is a wonderful article and it is great to hear that you are still in the field and battling the windmills. If you are ever on campus, I’d love to catch up. Take care.

    --Posted: February 5th, 2009 at 2:02 pm
  2. Richard K. Adler comments:

    How and where do I purchase your book?

    --Posted: February 7th, 2009 at 4:31 am
  3. Jane Thierfeld Brown comments:

    Our book will be available the first or second week of March from the Autism Asperger Publishing Co. (www.Asperger.net.) Thanks for asking.

    --Posted: February 10th, 2009 at 10:33 am
  4. Laura Brawn comments:

    Do you have any advice for educators at the secondary school level for supporting students with Asperger’s who are making the transition to postsecondary (college or university)? – I am looking for “Best Practices”

    --Posted: March 24th, 2009 at 2:56 pm
  5. Speech Therapy For Toddlers comments:

    This article is such an inspiration to help other people who have special needs. I think we should all learn from Jane’s example and help other people who have special needs as much as possible. It is sad the numbers are increasing with disability. I do agree it is very challenging to take care of someone who have special needs. For once, my five years old son does has problem with his speech. We are glad that he is making improvement.

    --Posted: November 12th, 2010 at 7:19 pm

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