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Autism College Support Services

Explore autism and college support services, aiding your child's transition to independence successfully.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
May 29, 2024
9 min read
min read

Understanding Autism and College

Navigating the transition from high school to college can be particularly challenging for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Understanding the intricacies of autism and postsecondary education, and the importance of independence for people with ASD, can provide critical insights for parents of autistic students.

Autism and Postsecondary Education

In the K-12 system, students with learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, or emotional support needs can access services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, in a college environment, services are provided under Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), with a different process for accessing services and varying levels of support available.

While 32% of students with ASD are more likely to enroll in a 2-year college, only 17% enroll in a 4-year college. The postsecondary completion rates for students with ASD remain significantly lower (39%) than that of their peers in the general population (59%) or of that for students with all types of disabilities (50%).

One of the contributing factors to these statistics is that only 24% of students with ASD notify their school of their disability, potentially leading to a lack of access to disability-related accommodations and support [2].

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Independence

For students with ASD, learning independence is a vital part of their college journey. However, students with ASD are less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors, use health services, and use the writing center compared to students with learning disabilities (LD).

Despite these challenges, it's important to note that autistic students often possess advantages in areas such as attention to detail, visual thinking, integrity, ability to establish a routine, creative perspectives, memory of facts, and perseverance. These are valuable skills that can benefit them greatly in college.

The transition to college is a significant milestone in the life of any student. For students with ASD, it involves overcoming unique challenges and leveraging their unique strengths. With the right support services, these students can thrive in a college environment. Understanding the landscape of autism and college support services is the first step towards ensuring a successful college experience for students with ASD.

College Support for Autistic Students

Autism support services in colleges often differ from those provided in the K-12 system. While services in the K-12 system are provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), college services are offered under Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Understanding how to access these services and what types of support are available is crucial for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) transitioning into the world of higher education.

Disclosure and Accessing Support Services

A crucial step toward accessing support services in college is disclosure. Merely 24% of students with ASD inform their school of their disability, potentially leading to a lack of access to disability-related accommodations and support. High school students on an education plan like an IEP or 504 should discuss their potential needs with school staff. It's important to note that high school accommodations do not automatically transfer to college [3].

When touring colleges, families should make appointments to speak with someone in the disability or accessibility services office. They can inquire about the different levels of support available and ask specific questions regarding accommodations for students on the autism spectrum.

Types of Autism Support Services

The types of autism support services offered at colleges vary greatly. Some universities excel in providing diverse services ranging from general disabilities services offices that provide exceptional support for free to programs that offer specialized and structured support for an additional fee.

However, even with support services in place, students with ASD face unique challenges. They are less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors, use health services, and use the writing center compared to students with learning disabilities. Additionally, students with ASD reported interacting less frequently with faculty, academic advisors, and graduate students compared to students with LD.

Despite these challenges, autistic students often possess advantages in areas such as attention to detail, visual thinking, integrity, ability to establish a routine, creative perspectives, memory of facts, and perseverance, which are valuable skills that can benefit them greatly in college [3].

Type of Support Service Description
General Disabilities Services Office Offers a range of support services for all disabilities, including autism, at no additional cost
Specialized Autism Support Programs Provides targeted support for students with autism, often at an additional fee

Understanding the available support services is the first step in ensuring a smooth transition for students with autism as they navigate the exciting journey of higher education.

Evaluating College Support Services

When it comes to higher education, understanding the support services available to autistic students can greatly enhance their college experience. In this section, we'll explore the types of support services available at universities and fee-based autism support programs.

Autism Support Services at Universities

In the K-12 system, students with learning disabilities, including autism, can access services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In a college environment, however, services are provided under Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), with a different process for accessing services and varying levels of support available.

The College Transitions team has identified universities that excel at assisting students with disabilities, including autism, to find success in postsecondary education. These universities offer diverse services ranging from general disabilities services offices that provide exceptional support for free to programs that offer specialized and structured support for an additional fee [1].

It's important to note that only 24% of students with ASD notify their school of their disability, potentially leading to a lack of access to disability-related accommodations and support. Therefore, it's crucial for students and parents to communicate with the university about their needs to ensure they can take full advantage of the support services available.

Fee-Based Autism Support Programs

In addition to the support services provided by universities, there are also fee-based autism support programs that offer specialized and structured support. These programs may offer one-on-one coaching, academic support, social skills training, and other services designed to help autistic students succeed in college.

While these programs often come with an additional cost, they can provide valuable support for autistic students. When considering a fee-based program, it's important to evaluate the specific services offered, the qualifications of the staff, and the program's track record of success.

Autistic students often possess advantages in areas such as attention to detail, visual thinking, integrity, ability to establish a routine, creative perspectives, memory of facts, and perseverance, which are valuable skills that can benefit them greatly in college [3]. With the right support services in place, autistic students can thrive in a college environment.

The Role of Parents and Educators

The journey from diagnosis to degree can be complex for a student with autism. Parents and educators play a critical role in supporting autistic students as they navigate the post-secondary landscape. Their involvement can significantly impact the success of autism and college support services.

Parental Involvement in College Transition

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) brings unique challenges and strengths for each student. Parents of autistic students often have insights into these individual traits that can be invaluable in a college setting. As such, parents need to be active partners in their child's education, contributing their insights and collaborating on decisions about placements and services [4].

Parental involvement is particularly crucial during the transition to college. Parents of adolescents and emerging adults with ASD frequently request social interaction training and independent living training as services for their children. Additionally, parents of post-secondary students with ASD face distinct challenges with self-advocacy, managing emotions, and managing personal/adaptive skills compared to students with ADHD [5].

It's important to establish positive relationships and open communication between parents and schools. This involvement is foundational for supporting autistic students, particularly as parents may experience psychological distress and isolation.

Educator Collaboration for Autism Support

Educators also play a pivotal role in providing autism and college support services. Collaboration with teachers, educational assistants, school-based teams, and community partners is crucial for families of autistic children to feel supported and experience success in the educational setting.

The acronym TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) underscores the importance of collaboration in achieving positive outcomes. Schools playing the advocacy role on a student's behalf can enhance the child-centered, collaborative approach in education.

Providing opportunities for autistic students to communicate their needs, goals, and preferences is key. Fostering inclusive environments in schools can lead to increased self-determination and confidence among students with autism.

In conclusion, the involvement of parents and educators in providing autism and college support services is pivotal. Their understanding, empathy, and collaboration can help autistic students navigate the college experience successfully.

Autism-Friendly College Programs

There are numerous higher education institutions across the United States that offer autism-friendly programs. Let's delve into the structure of these programs and understand their cost and accessibility.

Program Focus and Structure

Autism-friendly college programs typically focus on providing a supportive environment for students with autism. They offer a range of services, including academic and social support, transition coaching, speech language therapy, mentoring, and even employment outreach assistance.

For instance, Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia runs the ASPIRE program via its Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio provides transition coaches and support groups as part of its autism support services. University of Montana runs a program called MOSSAIC that incorporates speech language therapy and offers social support, academic support, and mentoring. Austin Peay State University operates the Full Spectrum Learning program, which conducts seminars for students with autism and works with students and faculty not on the spectrum to boost understanding and empathy. Lastly, Michigan State University's BOND program focuses on social and communication development, offering seminars, individual meetings, peer mentoring, social events, and employment outreach assistance.

Cost and Accessibility of Programs

The cost of these autism support services varies across institutions. Some colleges charge for the services on a semester basis, while others have a set annual fee. There are also colleges that offer certain services for free to students with autism.

Here's a table summarizing the cost of these programs:

College Program Cost
Saint Joseph’s University ASPIRE $6,000 per year
Wright State University Transition Coaches and Support Groups $750 per semester (first year), $300 per semester (subsequent years)
University of Montana MOSSAIC $20 per semester (certain services), $130 per session (other services)
Austin Peay State University Full Spectrum Learning $2,500 (scholarships and other funding opportunities available)
Michigan State University BOND Free

While these costs may seem high, many colleges offer scholarships and funding opportunities to make their programs more accessible. The accessibility of these programs is crucial, as they can significantly enhance the college experience for students with autism and contribute to their successful transition into adulthood.

Success Stories and Best Practices

In the domain of autism and college support services, various institutions have not only provided effective programs but have also achieved noteworthy success rates. Simultaneously, some best practices have emerged that have been instrumental in fostering a supportive environment for students with autism.

Success Rates of Autism Support Programs

Several universities have demonstrated high success rates in their autism support programs. A shining example is Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. This institution boasts a graduation rate of 85% for students with autism, a significant achievement credited to their Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. This center has been in operation since 2009 and offers the ASPIRE program at a cost of $6,000 per year [6].

University Program Cost Success Rate
Saint Joseph’s University ASPIRE $6,000 per year 85% Graduation

Best Practices for Autism Support in College

Several best practices have been identified in universities that provide effective autism support services. For example, Wright State University offers transition coaches and support groups, providing a comprehensive support network for students with autism. The cost for these services is $750 for the first semester and $300 for subsequent semesters.

The University of Montana incorporates speech language therapy into its MOSSAIC program and offers social support, academic support, and mentoring. The cost for these services ranges from $20 per semester for certain services to $130 per session for others.

Austin Peay State University has implemented effective seminars for students with autism through its Full Spectrum Learning program, which also works with students and faculty not on the spectrum to foster understanding and empathy. The program cost is $2,500, but scholarships and other funding opportunities make it accessible for students [6].

Lastly, Michigan State University's BOND program focuses on social and communication development, offering seminars, individual meetings, peer mentoring, social events, and employment outreach assistance. This program is free for students with autism [6].

University Primary Approach Program Fee
Wright State University Transition Coaches & Support Groups $750/$300 per semester
University of Montana Speech Language Therapy $20 per semester/$130 per session
Austin Peay State University Autism Seminars $2,500
Michigan State University Social and Communication Development Free

These best practices reflect the diverse and comprehensive strategies that these universities have employed to provide effective support services for students with autism, leading to high success rates.

References

[1]: https://www.collegetransitions.com/dataverse/learning-support-services

[2]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8622457/

[3]: https://www.topcollegeconsultants.com/autism-and-the-transition-to-college/

[4]: https://autismawarenesscentre.com/collaboration-in-education-working-together-for-positive-outcomes/

[5]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5581732/

[6]: https://www.greatvaluecolleges.net/best-colleges-for-students-with-autism/

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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