Transitioning High-Functioning ASD Students To College

More and more high-functioning students with autism spectrum disorders are attending college. What are their unique challenge, and how can we help ensure their success?

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are one of the most commonly identified types of social disability, and the number of young people being diagnosed with ASD each year is growing. We have also seen a proportionately higher number of higher-functioning individuals with ASD, likely as a result of trends toward earlier diagnoses and therapeutic intervention.

As a result, more and more high-functioning ASD students are making the step to post-secondary institutions. While this is a positive development for individuals with ASD and their families, as well as our society as a whole, it also raises questions and concerns about how to prepare these individuals for the social, environmental, and organizational demands of college life.

Diane Adreon and Jennifer Stella Durocher's 2007 article entitled, "Evaluating the College Transition Needs of Individuals with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders" outlines the issues that teenagers with ASD frequently face at higher-education institutions and offers ways to help prepare them for these difficulties.

The most significant difficulties the authors anticipate ASD students facing stem from social difficulties (i.e., trouble empathizing, picking up on social cues and jokes, and trouble regulating tone, volume, and personal proximity when speaking to someone), dependence on routine (which is often difficult to maintain in the rather amorphous schedules of college undergraduates), and organizing/regulating time to ensure that assignments are being completed. The article offers various practical suggestions to help students navigate these issues, including arranging for a student social mentor, setting up classes to mirror the students' established routines as much as possible, and giving students the opportunity to become acquainted with a campus before arriving there.

While colleges and universities are required to offer needed accommodations to students with disabilities under ADA, they are not bound by IDEA, which places the burden of disclosure on the student and his or her family. This means that students are responsible for explaining their disability and needs to professors, securing tutors if necessary, and ensuring their needs are being met.

Because of this, the most essential skill that family and secondary teachers can work to instill in ASD students who are looking to attend college is that of self-advocacy. While the article states that some parents provide their ASD students with life skills coaches to help them navigate these waters, particularly in their first year, if ASD students are going to graduate to become functioning members of the workforce, they will need to have well-developed systems for navigating social networks and ensuring adequate accommodations for their unique needs.

contributed by J. Tabak

Source text:
Adreon, D. & J. S. Durocher. (2007). Evaluating the college transition needs of individuals with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42 (5), 271-279.