When recent graduate of the Undergraduate Studies program at AUSB Eva Loeffler transferred to Antioch from a community college, she was worried that she wouldn’t have the time for the increased workload or be able to keep up with her studies. Her daughter (twenty-two at the time) had aged out of the school system that was federally mandated. Services and support for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with dual mental health disorder are limited and Loeffler’s world was consumed with caring for her.
In “Falling Through Cracks: When The Safety Net for Young Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder Fails,” an article by Loeffler for Odyssey Online, a digital magazine produced by AUSB undergraduate students, she wrote, “Children with ASD and developmental disorders are ensured—through federal laws—that schools provide special education and services. This mandate ends when the children age out of the school system at age 21.” A high percentage of people with ASD also experience additional psychiatric challenges. Without services or placement for her daughter, whose bipolar disorder was becoming difficult to manage, Loeffler found that the ER was the best option when the need for crisis intervention arose. “My daughter was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where the staff struggled to understand her autism,” wrote Loeffler. “She was heavily sedated, at times restrained to control her behaviors, but she regressed as her behavioral challenges increased. After seven weeks, she was discharged back home as there was no other place available. Two weeks later she was back in the ER.”
The social justice aspect of Antioch spoke to Loeffler, and the focus on returning adult education meant that she was supported in her circumstances as a student with many other responsibilities outside of school. Rather than allowing the challenges of her personal life to discourage her from completing her bachelor’s degree, Loeffler chose to use her time at Antioch to dive deeper into autism mental health. She decided to use her studies and design her individual research in such a way that it would help her to better advocate for her daughter as they navigated through their transition.
She managed to gain access to enough services for her daughter to have space in her schedule to attend classes. Despite immense challenges, Loeffler created a symbiotic relationship between her studies and her responsibilities as a parent through the development of her Capstone presentation and the research and networking she undertook for the project, which included interviewing experts in the field.
Having graduated in March, Loeffler feels incredibly empowered by the knowledge and experience she gained through her research at Antioch. She is entering a graduate program at Cal Lutheran for an MS in Counseling Psychology and plans to work with autistic individuals and their families doing clinical work as well as working toward filling the gap in services for adults with ASD. She found her daughter benefited from being around horses.
To deepen her knowledge about how horses and animals can help people with challenges, Eva spent her Antioch service learning requirement at Big Heart Ranch in Malibu and later ELSA, Inc. in the Agoura Hills area. “Horses don’t judge you,” she said. “Working with them is a great opportunity to work on developing social skills, empathy and understanding body language.” She is excited to include nature and equine therapy into her future work.