College Students on the Spectrum

In recent years, the number of young autistic adults seeking educational advancement and career opportunities has risen sharply. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in 68 children is currently diagnosed with some form of autism, a number that has been rising at a rate of 17 percent per year since the mid-1990’s when the DSM-IV diagnostic manual of psychiatric disorders broadened the definition of “autism.”

About one-third of all young adults with autism attend college in the years right after high school. Recent research found that  community colleges may play a particularly important role in fostering transition into productive lives for individuals on the autism spectrum.  (The findings appeared in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.) College students with autism who went straight into a 4-year college from high school did less well.

Autism is a neurological disorder and is not  a behavioral or psychological disorder.  It’s important to keep in mind that a college student who is autistic generally wants to be in college. They also are working hard to pay attention, complete homework assignments and  understand and execute what is expected of them. The best course of action is to be direct as well as patient and  kind, and always assume that the student has the best intentions.

Useful Resources

Autism in College Students Fact-Sheet 2016 – One page fact sheet prepared by Autism Spectrum Navigators that summarizes provides an overview of what autism is and includes a brief list of traits an individual with autism may have.

Autism&Uni Best Practice Guides

The following three resources have been prepared by Autism&Uni, an EU-funded initiative  with partners in five countries.  The aim is to support greater numbers of young adults on the autism spectrum to gain access to Higher Education (HE) and to navigate the transition successfully.  The resources contain information about autism, how to support students and  more.

Each guide focuses on ‘Takeaways’ – insights, ideas and prompts for making
a positive change and good practice to share with colleagues, as well as
‘Calls to action’ – direct action you can take immediately and without the
help of others.

Some of the examples of best practice may not be directly applicable in your
country or organization. Where this happens, it may still be possible to spot an
underlying principle that can be included in your professional practice.

Rethinking Higher Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders This research provides a literature review and case study on the impact of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) in higher education. (17 pages in length.)

Autism in the Classroom: Resource from Bellevue College (WA) Autism Navigators which provide access for autistic students, and support them in learning to embrace their own singular selves.

Top 5 tips – for University Lecturers: Written by Marc Fabri, Senior Lecturer, Leeds Beckett University and Lead on the Autism&Uni  Initiative.  He gives his top 5 autism tips for university lecturers supporting autistic students, highlighting how they can make the most of their students’ strengths and lessen the effects of their difficulties.

*In the United Kingdom and Ireland, a lecturer holds an open-ended, tenure-track or tenured position at a university or similar institution, and is often an academic at an early career stage who teaches, conducts research, and leads research groups. Most lecturers typically hold permanent contracts at their academic institution. In terms of responsibilities and recognition, the position of an open-ended lecturer on a permanent contract is equivalent to assistant professor or associate professor in the North American academic system.  A tutor is a teacher in a British university who gives individual instruction to undergraduates.