Even though an average student may not know much about autism except for the basic information, it is rest assured that they have seen at least one person learning next to them. A reason why it is so is quite simple - the ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder is not an illness but a learning disability. What it means in practice is that there are major differences between how a person learns and what cognitive challenges can occur.Most importantly, there are resources that are available for students with autism that can help and change one’s life for the better.
Understanding Asperger's & Autism
Even three decades ago it was not common for autistic students to even get enrolled at college regardless of a position upon the ASD spectrum. Since it was mostly seen as a disability, there were little resources that would help such students learn and communicate in a way that would suit their intellectual abilities.
According to the National Center for Education & Statistics, only about 41% of students with learning disabilities graduate with a Bachelor's degree. The same relates to students with Asperger's syndrome, which represents a diagnosis related to the autism spectrum.
Just like autism, Asperger’s syndrome has similar challenges that include hypersensitivity to light and sound, challenges to maintain a conversation, non-verbal skills difficulties that affect the tone and the loudness, coordination of movements, and the frequent anxiety and depression.
The major difference with autism is that it also involves a frequent speech delay and understanding of what has been said, which is purely psychological and requires the creation of a special environment where a student feels safe and has as little distractions as possible.
Nevertheless, most colleges in the United States start to implement various optimization methods to let these issues be addressed to provide a high-quality, adjusted education.
The Problems That Autism Students Face During Education in College
- Processing of information. It usually becomes the most challenging issue for autistic students since they cannot process information like the rest and there are no standard cases or patterns that could be followed.
- Low socialization skills. Although it should not be perceived as a lack of empathy, students on the autistic spectrum want to establish social contacts but find it extremely hard in the unknown environment.
- Hypersensitivity factor. The loud sounds, usual college chatter, light, slideshows, and many other factors make it very difficult for ASD & Asperger’s students to concentrate and even function well.
- The different learning pace. The majority of autistic students require a special learning pace, which is why they may either learn faster or slower compared to fellow students.
- Following facial cues during the lectures. It is mostly related to Asperger’s Syndrome, which represents a significant problem since an average student will not be able to understand whether the professor is serious or not about saying something, as an example.
- Understanding direction and writing things down. This is where most students will require help regardless of where they are located on the ASD spectrum. The key is to provide more time and avoid any pressure.
- Inability to link certain concepts in between. While it is purely individual, most autistic college students may have difficulty seeing the logic between usual concepts or coming up with related ideas.
- Low self-esteem due to feeling different. Due to a lack of information about autism, most ASD students find it hard to cooperate with the teachers as they frequently see rejection or even the fear as to what must be done.
- Sensory processing of information. It can contain both mild and quite severe symptoms as the sensory processing may come out all of a sudden during a typical learning day or be absent per se.
Choosing Colleges for Students with Autism
Without a doubt, students that appear on the autism spectrum require additional support when choosing a suitable college or trying to manage a certain institution where they are already enrolled. However, if the place does not offer a means for proper communication and organization of various homework assignments, it is necessary to think over different colleges or see what can be done.
- Prepare one's IEP report, which stands for Individualized Education Program. This document will let autistic students pass through different enrollment procedures. It will also help the colleges in question see whether they can provide all the necessary or recommend some other place in your area. As a rule, IEP must be composed by your high-school advisor, so all the important unique aspects are well-noted.
- Contact College’s Accessibility Services. Do not forget that some places offer more resources and trained staff to help you learn the right way and face no challenges as you want to succeed. Unfortunately, even though the legislation tells us enough about the discrimination of students with learning or any other kind of disability, it still does not mean that every Accessibility Desk offers the same assistance for ASD or Asperger’s applicants.
- Study On-Campus Environment. Even though most educational institutions will offer classroom assistance and adjusted curriculum materials, it is crucial to focus on the campus and boarding conditions as well. Ask about how the noise, roommates, study rooms, and leisure time are organized for ASD learners.
- Choose Colleges That Offer Transition or Test-Learning. Since we talk about provision of special services and support (including healthcare guidance), think about colleges that offer future transition or allow you to test how the study process happens like it is in the University of South Florida’s CARD center. Such an approach will help you to see what fits your particular case.
After all, any student on the autism spectrum has a right to graduate and find a decent job as long as the right kind of help has been provided. It does start with choosing the right college, which is a time-consuming process where "better" always begins with the creation of an inclusive atmosphere that meets your IEP's requirements. The possibilities are out there, it only takes an effort to explore them all and give it some time to analyze and think over.
5 Best Matching and Autism-friendly Colleges in the US
While the best is always subjective, these five colleges in the United States offer unique features for autistic and Asperger's syndrome students. Here is why:
1. The University of West Florida. If you would like to receive individual assistance, look no further, as this university has an amazing Argos for Autism strategy, which means that you receive personalized assistance and coaching. The introductory program costs one hundred U.S. dollars and allows two days to help one see if it is the right fit while offering a real study environment.
2. Marshall University. Although it is an expensive option, the school offers one of the best facilities called The Autism Training Center. Providing you can pay $3,200 per semester, you receive daily support as an autistic student. You cooperate with the personal advisor who will help you to control the curriculum, set goals, and address any issues that you have. It is like a personal helper that guides you around the classroom and while on campus.
3. Kent State University. They have an affordable Autism Advocates Program that helps one to choose the right strategy of learning. Alternatively, you can try out various methods while studying. It also has a separate College Success for Students with Asperger's program, which helps with finding a job and offers extensive academic support. Now it also has the great PALS (Partnering for Achievement and Learning Success) option, which helps to cooperate with the neurotypical learners to help establish social skills. All in all, there is a lot to choose from as one of the initiatives is guaranteed to work for you.
4. Texas Tech University. It is no secret that most autistic students possess amazing technical skills, which is why Texas Tech has provided a special Transition Academy program for ASD learners, so they can learn in an almost usual environment and enroll in various music or art classes to support themselves and participate in various social events. It also offers special coaching and supervision that works on-demand.
5. Boston University. It offers Strategic Education Services (SES). As an elite college in Boston, Massachusetts, it takes a special entry in our list for ASD students since it represents an example of organized studies, test-taking, and every small detail that helps students with various learning disabilities to become enrolled with no hassle or additional payments. As one of the leading institutions for autism research in the United States, you can even contribute to scientific work.
How to Teach ASD Students Right: A Quick Reference for Parents & Teachers.
- Start with the IEP analysis.
- Discuss possible learning strategies.
- Provide individual or group counseling, depending on the situation.
- Track the progress and make adjustments.
- Minimize classroom distractions and help with the processing and writing down (recording) of information.
- Offer extensive on-campus support by focusing on socialization and the mental well-being of the ASD student.
- Organize self-advocacy sessions that deal with confidence and one’s self-esteem.
7 Tips for College Success
- Focus on Employment Options
If you have a certain passion in life, think about employment options and look for a college that offers internships and good career perspectives. This kind of connection is crucial, especially if you have student loans that must be paid after graduation. Choosing such an approach, you will be able to secure your future.
- Learn More About Campus & Professors
The trick is to choose an environment that will help you learn instead of keeping you stressed. You will always achieve college success as long as you do not sense the lack of confidence or ignoring on behalf of others. It is a reason why you should test the grounds first and see what kind of feedback you get and how easy it is to get help and understand whether it is the right choice.
- Study The Supportive Resources
Things may sound good on paper but it is always best to discuss your personal challenges with an advisor and learn about how they will address each issue and how you can be protected from sensory perception problems while on campus and whether there are special rooms where you can study or calm down in peace.
- Take Advantage of Coaching Resources
If the college offers various programs, join them as soon as possible and try to receive as much help as you can. Do not forget about various scholarships and financial support means because it will also help you to get more help and worry no more about joining any special tutoring.
- Look For Someone Who Understands
If there is at least one person who understands and supports you, it will be a great benefit as you will not be alone and can always approach a fellow student for help. While having a professional advisor is great, we know that it is not the same as a friend by your side.
- Track The Progress Yourself
You might remember how your high-school teachers and parents kept track of your learning progress. You can always do the same by writing down or recording the list of things that concern you the most and those aspects that help you learn in a better way. This way you can be the master of your own resources and request more help where necessary.
- Let Your Favorite Past-time Shine
Join some clubs based on what you would like to do while in college. Be it music, drawing, sports, or anything, let it be your ticket to socializing. It will not only make you more popular but will help you feel at home with the rest.
The Scholarships for Students with Autism
- Autism Research Texas. It offers annual scholarships for students based in Texas that have an autism spectrum disorder and attend a local college or vocational institution. The award includes $500. It also provides access to the latest research data on autism.
- Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship for Autism. This scholarship of $5,000 is also awarded annually to autistic undergraduate or graduate students in the United States or those who have a relative (family member) diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. The students are required to submit an essay on a topic that explains their own state or attitude to autism. You can apply in January 2021.
- Making a Difference for Autism Scholarship. This special Autism scholarship lets you make a difference for the fellow students on the spectrum and receive a $500 award. Every high-school student or those attending a post-secondary program in 2021-2022 are eligible. It has no geographic restriction of any kind, so even exchange or foreign students in the U.S. (or beyond) can apply. All it takes is sending an application with a short essay.
- Jacob Trotter Memorial Scholarship. The $500 award is meant for individuals on the Autism Spectrum that plan going to college. The payment is made directly to a college of your choice. It is also necessary to provide a medical or educational challenges diagnosis. If you are a member of the Autism Society, you receive a preference. The application starts in April 2021.
- Google Lime Scholarship. If you are a techie, do not let autism or Asperger's Syndrome become a barrier for you! Apply for this $10,000 scholarship if you plan to study Computer Science, Data Management, or any IT field. Share your academic success, write a short essay, and let your future become better with the help of Google, Inc. The deadline is January 2021.
Useful Resources for College Students with Autism
- Autism Society. One of the best resources for ASD and Asperger's students. It includes general information on learning challenges, living with autism, the national helpline, and a list of helpful resources that explain how to choose the right college or where to seek additional information.
- Preparing to Experience College Living. This article speaks about all kinds of support that must be offered by colleges and suggests ways of social interaction for future students. It can be considered as a basic guide for ASD learners and parents.
- Autism Speaks. This resource is aimed at post-secondary education and increasing awareness about ASD learning and Asperger’s. A useful source for information on the latest achievements.
- AWARE (National Autism Association). It can be approached as the hotline for autistic students who are looking for advice or want to report a problem. It also acts as an organization that helps to avoid accidents and provides mental support for students, parents, or relatives of autists nationwide.
- GovBenefits.org Resource. You can look up for the benefits that you can get as an autistic student or a family member with an autistic learner or someone in your care.
- Department of Education of the United States. In case, you want to receive help forming your IEP card, it is best to approach the governmental office locally and request information on what kind of benefits you can receive when forming your special needs document.
- Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. An important resource for ASD college students with information dealing with your educational rights and the learning tools that must be made available. It is also a place to voice your concerns and make some educational issues known.
- The Autism Higher Education Foundation. It is a group of volunteers who help to find information on college education for ASD students and protect their civil rights. It also has a great list of programs and clubs aimed at autistic students.
- Asperger’s / Autism Network. General information on what it means to create an Asperger’s profile and how it can help an adult learner through college or future employment.
- Autism National Committee. If you need to gain some self-confidence and cooperate with those who understand you well, it is time to join the ANC and make a major difference in your life and the lives of others.
You Have a Right
Most importantly, remember that you do not have a disability because you only learn a little bit differently and require specific resources to succeed. You have a right to learn exactly how it suits you, which is why colleges and universities of your choice must be ready to provide equal resources or special conditions to help you out. The most important is to prepare your IEP information that lists your needs since the school times to let the specialists see how to assist you the best way. Collect information, study available resources, take enough time, and you will definitely succeed!