Going To College With Autism: Autism & College Tips

It can be challenging to go to college with autism. We hope these tips can help anyone with autism have success in college.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

Can Autistic People Go To College?

People with autism are more than capable of going to college. While some people on the spectrum might find the whole experience to be a little too much for them to grasp, the same could also apply to people without any disorders but who go to college as well.

Therefore, autistic students are as capable of succeeding in higher education as their peers are, especially when they're able to go in and learn a subject that fascinates them.

Challenges People With Autism Face While In College

As stated, people with autism are able to go to college. However, there are some serious challenges that a person with autism will have to face.

One of them is separate from schoolwork. The most challenging part of any young adult entering college, whether they have autism or not, can be learning how to fit in.

However, this problem can manifest into a larger issue for ASD students. It's due to the way autistic people often exhibit great challenges in learning how to talk to people, be personable, and social, and interact with other students and teachers in their day-to-day lives.

Again, autistic people are like other students in all aspects. Many colleges and universities have special programs just for autistic people.

This is normal, belonging to a group can allow such students to more easily find people that they can connect with, the kind that won't judge them for personalities that some might find odd. Poor social interactions characterize ASD.

When someone on the spectrum does attempt to do it, people around could view the experience as odd, sometimes even off-putting. However, students in a group including autistic friends help them to match up and adjust to the life-changing experiences they'll receive there.

The autistic groups also serve as a motivator for students in them to branch out to other groups and extracurricular activities, some of which might not have any students with a similar diagnosis.

Many colleges will also work with their autistic students, encouraging another student to help them out with things.

In one case, a student that's close to one on the spectrum may assist them as a buddy, making sure they understand certain reactions from people, why they're reacting a certain way, and how they should respond.

Buddies work well for those that are struggling. They may get involved together with community service projects or other events that don't involve their focus on too much social interaction. Still, this is for ASD individuals that retain some conspicuous symptoms going into their adolescence.

Many young adults with ASD are high functioning, meaning they possess the skills to read, eat, write, use a computer, socialize, look others in the eye, and make necessary social interactions.

For any hopeful student that has autism, it's recommended that they reach out to their college or university of choice to see if mentoring programs are available. This is highly individualized, so not every school may have something of this nature specifically for autistic people.

But with mentors, to help them deal with getting to better understand college professors.

Autistic people sometimes take things very literally. It's incredibly easy for them to misinterpret what someone is saying, while in or out of school.

College lectures are long and complex, so a mentor, buddy, and friend can go a long way in helping autistic students reach their fullest potential.

How To Succeed In College With Autism

While the first part of getting autistic students to succeed deals with who they know, the second important thing is how they're helped when they need assistance.

A frequent characteristic of autism is comfort in knowing what will happen. Learning new routines can be difficult. Changes in routine are even harder.

learning new routines is hard for autistic people

One hypothetical involves someone with autism taking notes in a class. The professor talks to his students and everyone is supposed to follow what he says in the book.

A student with ASD writes down every single thing that comes out of the professor's mouth. He ends up with notes that are 12 pages long every day.

His buddy notices that his notes are long, suggesting to him that he should consider shortening them down to understand better and retain what's in them.

The autistic student doesn't believe anything's wrong with his notes and proceeds to keep writing in the manner that he does.

That is until he begins to drop grades down until he's failing. He reaches out to his buddy, who tells him to shorten his notes by reducing them to half the pages they are.

On the next day of study, the notes total only six pages. Although he failed the midterms, he does well in his finals and eventually passes the class.

The hypothetical above shows that the autistic student had problems because he was taken out of his comfort zone, and placed into an environment that necessitated someone stepping in to help out.

He was in a routine of taking too many notes, but with help, managed to break from his unfulfilling routine and into one that benefitted his grades and exams.


What percent of students with autism go to college?

Most people (66%) on the autism spectrum people won't attend college. About 34% of people with the disorder enroll in higher education, either immediately after high school or for six years.

What percent of people with autism go to college?

Some outside of this percentage may enter into their thirties or forties also. Some may enroll in a military academy, particularly those with high-functioning abilities.

For more ASD students to consider enrolling, more and more schools are opening up to them long before they're finished with high school. This sometimes mandates a relationship with a college that's in the local area, or at least in the same state as their residence.

Students with the disorder who branch out to another state may have fewer resources to prepare them for where they want to go.

Do people with autism do well in college?

People with autism can do well in higher education. However, some may view it as too formidable a thing for them to achieve.

All high school students that have autism are recommended to learn about those challenges to help better address them when they come about. When autistic people don't do well in college, it's usually because of the following reasons.

1. An inability to make friends

Friendship with someone that's on the spectrum is great when the person they're friends with understands their condition and can help them as needed. When that's missing, things may go misunderstood in classes, study material, and in learning how to conduct themselves.

College environments can be confusing for all freshmen students, so getting one with ASD to find their way around through conversation and social reciprocation can do wonders for their self-esteem. They can also do well in their studies when a friend is around.

2. Sensory overloads

Even adults with autism can find certain noises, visuals, and postures very annoying. It can end up with them losing focus on their work, which may impact their grades.

3. Awkwardness

Young people in college are very social with their peers, but a student on the spectrum might appear strange to others that have never interacted with anyone with the disorder before. This could make it a chore for them to bond, and prevent studying with other classmates when working on group projects.

Is college hard for autistic students?

Most students in college have a hard time adjusting to the heavy workloads and people they see around them. They can be very hard for autistic pupils but are easy to manage provided they enroll in the school prepared for the environment they'll soon find themselves in.

How does autism affect college students?

Autism can impact students positively and negatively. In most cases, it's positive. It allows students to see autistic people as ordinary students that happen to find themselves in a place they're never gone to before and is a long way from home.

What do autistic people do after high school?

When high school's over many people on the spectrum enter the workforce, they often attend a trade school or vocational classes to help them transition from student to employer.

steven zauderer

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

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