Prepare for the Influx of College Students with Autism

Equip your campus with tailored programs, expanded communication

Students Autism

The number of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States is on the rise, and so is the number of students headed to college. In the next decade, it is estimated that more than half a million students on the spectrum will enter adulthood and nearly half of them will enroll in a college, university, or technical/vocational school. While these students bring a dynamic diversity to college campuses, they also face profound challenges, meaning schools will need to take extra steps to set them up for success.

Prepare your institution to serve this growing population of students with the help of student affairs expert Aaron W. Hughey, who hosts a webinar for Eli Education, “Help Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder Succeed in College.” Hughey covers ASD students’ characteristics, the ethical and legal challenges associated with serving them, what learning strategies work best, and how to develop and facilitate effective social interaction strategies.

Autism Diagnoses on the Rise

Currently, about 1 in 68 children in the United States aged 8 are diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While more research is needed to gauge even the scope of the issue, reports The Cut, it’s clear that diagnosis rates are rising.

“The apparent rise in cases triggers two burning questions for parents, physicians, and scientists,” notes Web MD. “Is autism truly on the rise, or do the new statistics simply reflect the growing awareness of the condition, the expanded definition, and other factors?” Most experts believe the former—and question the cause of the increase.

Good news: Even while diagnoses are on the rise, children with autism are achieving more than those who were on the spectrum even a few years ago. Although autism presents challenges for youth—in general, they struggle to make friends, communicate effectively, and have trouble adapting to dynamic social environments—the number entering college is on the rise, too.

“A suite of recent studies has reported positive genetic correlations between autism risk and measures of mental ability,” noted the authors of a study published in Frontiers for Neuroscience, “Autism as a Disorder of High Intelligence.” “These findings indicate that alleles for autism overlap broadly with alleles for high intelligence, which appears paradoxical given that autism is characterized, overall, by below-average IQ.”

It’s difficult to pin down exactly how many children with autism are going to college, though most findings suggest the number is higher than ever, reported the Huffington Post.

Key: Offer Bountiful Resources—and Help with Life Skills

The number of students with autism headed to college is so high that traditional college-grading organizations like College Choice have started grading which ones are best for this population.

“In addition to providing academic advising many of the (best) schools provide guidance and counseling on life skills, including hygiene awareness, dorm decorum, communication techniques with peers and faculty, and more,” College Choice explained. “Similarly, many of the best schools for students with ASD offer vital transition programs. Because high school is so different than college—the latter being marked by independence and self-sufficiency—many students have a hard time with the adjustment.”

Best Value Schools nominated top colleges for students with ASD, ranging from small private colleges such as St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia to the University of Idaho where the Raven Scholars Program offers an “individualized, supported transition program” for students with ASD. Affordably-priced Bellevue College offers the Navigators program, packed with special courses for students on the spectrum and frequent progress updates for parents.

“People with autism may struggle with basic social skills, have trouble communicating, and/or exhibit repetitive or rigid behaviors,” notes Best Value Schools. “However, ASD does not typically affect general intelligence.”

Whether you are up for the challenge or not, students with autism will be heading to your school this year in greater numbers than before—and they have more options than ever before, notes Hughey. Make sure your school is leading the way.

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Jeff Schmerker
About Jeff Schmerker
Jeff has extensive professional experience writing on a variety of topics, from pharmaceutical research to environmental history. He has published more than a half-dozen books, and he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and restaurant reviewer. He lives in Missoula, Montana with his wife and son.