Christian Meyer

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Winthrop University’s Health and Counseling Services has created a new counseling group for students with autism, giving them the chance to meet with other autistic students and discuss their experiences.

Back in 2019 Winthrop introduced group counseling, as a way for students to interact with other struggling students and discuss their issues together.

This new group, called Actually Autistic WU, gives autistic students the opportunity to connect with one another and discuss their experiences in class, the workplace and in their lives.

“I joined this club, this group, because I kind of just wanted to be in a space where I can connect with other people and I’ve tried the other groups at Winthrop and I just want to be at a place where I’m more connected through my disability,” said Jazmin Perry, a Winthrop student who gave us permission to discuss her membership in the group.

“New counseling groups tend to happen when a counselor perceives a need, so it might be the counselor tends to see a lot of similar types of situations in several clients or if we’re seeing trends in our discussions about a particular presenting issue,” said Gretchen Baldwin, a licensed psychologist and the clinical coordinator for counseling services.

“Also, in our report running, we assess diagnoses and presenting issues, so if there tend to be some trends based on that, we might start a group to really target a particular group,” Baldwin said.

Jessica Hudgins, a staff counselor and the outreach coordinator for Counseling Services, helped form the group and she has worked with the members to help shape it going forward, allowing its members to get what they want out of their sessions.

“I really like psychoeducation. I love brains and so, talking a little bit more about the brain and that sort of thing and letting that naturally flow into discussions amongst the students and kind of looking at problem-solving common issues that show up, whether that is figuring out how to deal with our energy, looking at accommodations, dealing with change; that sort of thing,” Hudgins said.

“I really tried to be autistic student-led from the beginning, in terms of what happens with the group, how it’s structured. So part of that is going to be getting feedback at the end of the semester to shape what next semester’s group looks like.”

Hudgins said the group is not taking in more students this semester, but that could change in future semesters.

“I created it as what we call a ‘closed group’ in counseling, which means it’s the same people each week and no new members come in or go out for the duration of the group,” she said. “Part of that was safety and not being sure how open folks would be, so since I’ve made that commitment to the group members for this semester and the group members have made that commitment, we are technically closed for the semester. ”

In the meantime, Counseling Services encourages autistic students to reach out to the office if they need assistance.

“Autistic students are always welcome to reach out to Counseling Services. There are a couple of us here who work frequently with autistic students and enjoy that work and they can contact me directly, as well, if they’re interested in joining the next group,” Hudgins said.

While Actually Autistic WU is just getting started, group members say they’re excited to see where it will go next.