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Succeeding in College: 10 Measures to Help Students on the Autism Spectrum

“We have a 19-year-old son with high-functioning autism that will be attempting college starting next summer (just 4 classes to start with). This is something he wants to do, although (sadly) my husband and I have our doubts that he will be able to ‘make it’. I know that sounds defeatist, but we’ve lived with him from birth and know how he usually reacts to an entirely new environment. My question is what can we do now to set him up for success? We would love to see him succeed!”

Graduating from high school and heading into post-secondary education usually creates a mix of emotions in ALL young people, but it can be an especially challenging time for those with an autism spectrum disorder (e.g., anticipation, fear, exhilaration, doubt).

As a mother, you’ve likely witnessed them all in your son. Maybe you’re feeling the same way as you figure out how best to support him as he takes this important step.

Here are 10 measures to help students with autistic spectrum disorders that should be in place before and/or during their new venture:

1.  An introductory program that includes first contacts (e.g., with a tutor), good induction and orientation (e.g., with maps of the campus and lists of important contacts and their roles), positive family contacts when appropriate and, above all, a flexible approach that adapts to the “special needs” student and his or her particular needs.

2.  A support service that has the skills and status to communicate with departments in order to help them to adapt to the needs of the students (e.g., by extending work deadlines, or modifying arrangements to enable the student to complete placements, laboratory work or fieldwork).

3.  A key worker, usually a postgraduate student or member of staff, to whom the student can go for immediate advice or support.

4.  A public education program and specific training, for both staff and students, to make them aware of autistic-spectrum disorders and their difficulties, and of the support service.

5.  A support network for isolated students. Group seminars, tutorial and study groups can all contribute, as can paired or group assignments and recreational activities.

6.  Help with managing allowances, budgeting and everyday skills (e.g., laundry and shopping). Mentorship schemes, possibly through the students’ union, can draw in other students.

7.  Safe places on campus where students can withdraw, calm down and refocus when anxiety or anger threaten to get out of control. The involvement of all elements, including the campus police and the students’ union, can allow fragile students to complete their course successfully as well as learn to manage their over-arousal.

8.  Specialist instruction to develop suitable study skills (e.g. language skills, structuring their work and organizing their approach to studying).

9.  The use of aids (e.g., handouts and audio recordings of lectures).

10.  Lastly, a clear and realistic plan for the student’s exit from college when he/she has completed the course. There should be reviews in the final year and, if the student is under 25 years old, it’s recommended that the student contact a “careers and employment advisory agency” designed to help people with special needs to graduate into adulthood.

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and HFA: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance


Unknown said...  We found that taking our daughter (18) on an organised tour of her college, class room location & a place where she could go to have her own time before the place was full of students helped her a great deal. The college also had a person who understood her needs that she could go to. Forward planning to make them feel comfortable is the key.

Unknown said...We found having a private room was extremely helpful, so worth the cost. We also found having someone as her advocate, someone who would talk to us and her throughout her weeks and months that understood that communication was needing assistance. What we learned through her experience and can pass along is that she hated eating in the cafeteria's but wouldn't go shopping either, so she would have benefitted from some support there, as she just wouldn't eat. And... she needed accomodations to have her pet (even a snake would have been good), as this was her coping mechanism since she was eight years old.

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