For World Autism Awareness, this University of Texas lecturer helps her students be better advocates

Libby Cohen

This World Autism Awareness week, special education lecturer Lisa Sigafoos will lead her students in advocating for a welcoming setting for UT students with autism.

“It’s a perfect chance to show my students how to help people understand who individuals with autism are for all of their differences about them that make them not typical to the rest of us but still productive citizens,” Sigafoos said. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018 approximately one in every 59 children were autistic. In Texas, this means approximately 493,000 people have autism, according to the Autism Society of Texas. Sigafoos said she wanted to spark conversations around autism by wearing blue and handing out fliers about the disability outside the George I. Sanchez Building on Tuesday.   

“There are more and more students with autism coming onto campuses, so we want them to feel accepted,” Sigafoos said.

As a former teaching assistant, Sigafoos said she remembers having several students with autism at UT. From summer 2017 to spring 2018, the amount of students diagnosed with autism registered with Services for Students with Disabilities increased 15 percent, according to the SSD website.

Marissa Cole, special education sophomore, said participating in Sigafoo’s class campaign allowed her to be a voice for her peers. 

“There are students on campus that have forms of autism, and I want to be supportive of them,” Cole said. “We are advocating for them, as they are going through the same things we are as students at UT.” 

Joy Alexander, interim executive director for the Autism Society of Texas, said she wants to see college campuses become a place where autistic people are supported. 


“I would like for there to be the necessary accommodations in classrooms, because I have a child on the spectrum and my child has aspirations,” Alexander said. “I would like for him to have the same opportunity everyone else has.” 

Sigafoos said training future teachers to be aware of their inclusiveness of all abilities in classrooms is a personal goal of hers as she and several family members have been impacted by disabilities.  

“I am a product of special-ed, and I had people along the way who didn’t realize my potential,” Sigafoos said. “I don’t want that to happen to other students, especially those with autism, where sometimes people don’t think they have capabilities when they really do.”