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April 2014



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Jeff Krull, 24, and his mother, Nancy Stanley Van Dyke, both of Moneta, VA were photographed April 2 at Mercyhurst University in Erie. Krull is a sophomore graphic design major and is part of the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst, a program that offers a variety of support for students with autism spectrum disorders. MAGGIE PORTZLINE//ERIE TIMES-NEWS


Published: April 6, 2014 12:01 AM EST
Updated: April 5, 2014 7:58 PM EST


By ERICA ERWIN, Erie Times-News


On the theater stage, he shone.


He could become anybody, brash and bold, comfortable in his character’s skin. His delivery and timing? Perfect. It was easy to act like someone else.


Offstage, in real life, is where Jeff Krull’s challenges became apparent.


Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, Krull is intelligent — he was a good student in high school and earned a scholarship to a prestigious North Carolina university — but he sometimes struggles in social situations.


After not finding the support he needed at the North Carolina school, Krull eventually found his way to Mercyhurst University and A.I.M. — the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst, a unique program designed for students on the autism spectrum who face challenges in executive functioning and social interaction.


Now the 24-year-old is majoring in graphic design with a newfound sense of purpose and confidence. He recently was honored as the A.I.M. program’s most outstanding sophomore during a recognition event, part of the university’s celebration of Autism Awareness Month.


“I feel like I have people in my corner now,” Krull said. “I feel like I can accomplish getting a degree.”


Launched in 2008-09, the A.I.M. program promotes the development of self-advocacy and independent living skills to help foster academic and social growth in students. Recently released data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the number of children in America diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder has increased from 1 in 166 in 2000 to 1 in 68 in 2014.


The Mercyhurst program is one of the few tailored to help meet their needs.


“The untapped potential of these individual students is amazing,” said Dianne Rogers, who directs the Learning Differences Program at Mercyhurst and founded A.I.M.


Krull lives with some of the other students in the A.I.M. program in the Mercy Suites. There are socialization opportunities. And he meets weekly with A.I.M. program staff.


“It’s not like you can go off the grid,” said Krull’s mother, Nancy Stanley Van Dyke. “Everyone knows if you’re having a problem.”


The structure and support have helped Krull immensely, Van Dyke said. Watching him thrive over the past two years has been rewarding, she said.


“He’s been happy. He has goals, and he’s achieving them. He has aspirations,” Van Dyke said. “As a mother, what more can you want?


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