A new program at Loras College aims to help students with autism spectrum disorder thrive in school.

Earlier this week, the college launched Connections Academy. The four-year program is dedicated to those with autism.

Students will work with certified autism specialists at Loras’ Lynch Learning Center. Students will earn a bachelor’s degree and hone skills such as self-advocacy, stress management and socialization, according to a press release.

For nearly 30 years, the center has provided programs for students with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder.

Connections Academy students will meet weekly with their center coach, as well as attend weekly study sessions and bi-monthly mentoring meetings. They also will receive specialized career preparation.

“A recent summit dedicated to determining employment data found that 90 percent of people with autism spectrum disorder are either unemployed or underemployed. With the rate of autism up more than 300 percent since 2002, the crisis is just beginning,” said Lynn Gallagher, director of disability services at the center, in a press release.

Students would apply simultaneously to the college and academy.

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