'It's fantastic': Parent thrilled CBU launching inclusive learning program
CBU Inclusive allows students to audit courses, build portfolio and work on life skills
Suzanne Gray wasn't sure her son, John James, was destined for life on a university campus.
The 18-year-old was diagnosed with autism when he was two, but this fall, he'll be one of the first students in an inclusive program at Cape Breton University designed for students with intellectual disabilities.
Although Gray graduated from Sydney Academy this June with the highest honours, his mother said he struggles with some elements of classroom learning.
He can't take notes, so he gets printouts and he listens to audio materials, rather than read textbooks.
Gray said those challenges would make it difficult for him to succeed in a traditional university class.
But through CBU Inclusive, he'll choose which courses to take and have supports available to help.
Gray said the program will help him continue to learn and develop his socialization skills.
"He has this thirst for knowledge, so for him to be able to do this and participate and continue that socialization, and have that community involvement at the university, it's fantastic," Gray told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton.
The program will launch this fall for students ages 18 to 24 who self-identify as having an intellectual disability and don't meet the admissions standards for credit study.
They'll participate in up to three courses each term and won't get credits, but the university said they will earn a certificate when they reach their goals.
The program is open to five students a year, according to the university's website.
Lynn Levatte has a 12-year-old son with Down syndrome and teaches inclusive education at Cape Breton University.
She proposed the program idea to CBU president David Dingwall last year, after she learned of the success of a similar program at Clemson University in South Carolina.
'Successful environment for all learners'
Levatte said it gives all students a chance to attend university.
"The only big difference is they're supported," Levatte said on Information Morning Cape Breton. "They're supported with staff, with technology and it really creates a successful student environment for all learners."
Levatte added students can also get involved in other campus activities, such as sports and theatre.
Other N.S. universities offer similar programs
There are similar programs at Acadia University in Wolfville and Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.
Gray said her son has also been accepted into an independent living program at the NSCC Marconi campus in Sydney this fall.
She sees that program as complementing the CBU Inclusive program and said her son is eager to get started.
"He said, 'You mean I can be in a classroom with people with similar interests who actually want to be there?'" said Gray.
With files from CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton