Finding Autism-Friendly Colleges and Universities
While students with autism face many of the same challenges as other college students, they also have their own unique struggles to fight and conquer. According to the Interactive Autism Network which partners with the Kennedy Krieger Institute to increase autism awareness and conduct research, more than 50% of young adults with autism do not attend college, and, out of the 50% who do, 35% drop out after 1 semester. These people are more than capable of handling the coursework and academic demands of college; it’s the social aspect that is difficult. Having a solid support network can make all the difference.
Many students struggle in the dramatic shift from high-school to college: Completing the coursework and academic demands, living with new roommates, making new friends, driving in a new city, and more. But for autistic students, the dramatic shift can be even more intense. There are a number of factors that play into this; for example, colleges don’t have IEPs (Individualized Education Programs), which have helped students from elementary school through high school; their family and emotional network may not be able to advocate for the student as much; there are potentially more intense social interactions than the student is used to, and other variables.
But there is hope.
While nearly all colleges are required by federal law to have some accommodations for students with disabilities, sometimes that is not sufficient. This is why nearly 60 schools in the U.S. have autism support programs offered for eligible students. They aim to help the student with socializing, tutoring, and adjusting to the college campus and atmosphere. Although there is a fee associated with these programs, financial aid is available through scholarships and the respective state's vocational rehabilitation services office. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Education created a program called the Model Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID), which aims to aid in “academic enrichment, socialization, independent living skills, including self-advocacy skills, and integrated work experiences and career skills that lead to gainful employment” and also provides grants for those attending college. These programs seek to be a support group that the student can lean on when everything else is in chaos.
For high school students preparing for college, Jane Thierfeld Brown, who is a member at Yale Medical School and is a leading expert in autism, has a few tips to help with the transition.
Read on for these tips and more.