University Park, IL,
15:56 PM

Fostering success for young adults with disabilities

Catherine Balthazar on diversity and inclusion in higher education

A mother and her young son

By Catherine Balthazar, Dean of the College of Health and Human Services, Guest Writer

Being a parent often comes with a whirlwind of emotions, something Governors State University’s (GovState) Catherine Balthazar is especially familiar with as a mother of an adult son diagnosed with autism and ADHD, which left her uncertain how her son would navigate a world not quite made for neurodivergent people.

When her son was growing up, Balthazar recalls wondering what his life would look like following high school. If he would go to college, get a job, find his own place, or remain completely dependent cycled through her mind. A feeling that isn’t unfounded considering that the unemployment rate for high school graduates with disabilities is over 60%.

“I remember when he was about 10 years old, feeling so frustrated and alone. I was constantly explaining to modify his teachers’ instructional and classroom management methods to support his ability to learn and regulate himself. Nobody seemed to understand the way his brain worked,” said Balthazar.

Experiencing that firsthand has motivated Balthazar to help GovState become a place where people like her son would feel like they belong and could be successful. As Dean of the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS), this is especially important to Balthazar knowing that students with diverse abilities are a growing population of GovState’s student body.

Currently, fewer than 35% of students with disabilities at four-year institutions graduate within eight years and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 71.5% of those who graduate are unemployed.

“As a community, we need to learn how to close that gap,” said Balthazar.

A step towards that goal is building awareness, something that CHHS is doing with their upcoming conference.

The Fostering Success conference on March 13 is a way to connect with others, with a focus on an underserved, but growing segment of our student population: young adults with disabilities.  There will be a full day of presentations, exhibit hall, and an afternoon stand-up show by The Comedians With Disabilities Act. Topics will include perspectives on neurodiversity, self-advocacy, and classroom strategies.

To learn more and to register for the conference, click here. Registration is due March 6.