Life on Campus

Postsecondary Educational Opportunities Guide

August 30, 2018

Below is an excerpt from Autism Speak Postsecondary Educational Opportunities Guide by Autism Speaks Board Member Valerie Paradiz, Ph.D. Executive Director, Autistic Global Initiative Autism Research Institute.

Most colleges and universities have a department that ensures the school’s compliance with both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It is important to become familiar with the school’s disability-related resources so that you can be sure to advocate for the services and supports to which you are entitled.

While you are deciding which postsecondary path is the best fit for you, you may also want to look into the other aspects of life on campus outside of the academic programs available at each institution. These might include how the day to day routines will go, what type of assistance is available and what you can do to prepare before you go. If you are going to a college campus, you can ask the student services office, as well as the office of disability services.

If you are attending a transition, vocational or life skills program, the staff there will be able to walk you through this. In addition, it’s also a great idea to work on any skills you think will enable you to make your experience as successful as possible.

Campus Supports for Students with Disabilities

If a college or university does not offer ASD-specific programming, your family should assess how supportive the Disability or Student Services Office will be. Some larger universities have an ADA Coordinator’s Office, replete with ADA counselors who assist students in accommodation planning. One word of caution: although many colleges offer well-organized support for students with ADHD, depression or dyslexia through their Student Services or Disability Offices, the majority of colleges are still grappling with how to serve the rising numbers of applicants with autism. Community colleges are often good starting points for individuals on the spectrum, if your family is seeking less expensive options. Many special programs are emerging on community college campuses every year.

Psychological Counseling Center

If your family is considering a college that does not offer a specialized ASD program, you may want to place a call to the campus counseling center and to gather information online or through the admissions office. Among the matters to consider: Does the counseling center have professionals who are trained in supporting individuals with autism? Are group counseling options available on campus? How long may a student receive counseling support on campus? If sessions are limited, can my family make arrangements for extended sessions or receive a list of referrals for therapists in the community?

If you are already in therapy or have had psychological counseling in the past, you might benefit from counseling on campus, particularly during the initial weeks of adjustment to the demands of school and social life. Additionally, some campus counseling centers offer needs assessments (often online) that your family can complete and submit to the counseling services center before you arrive at college.

Supports Off Campus

You might also tap into local autism society chapters, Autism Speaks U or other community programs and organizations for individuals with disabilities.

Some questions to consider: Do any local organizations run an adult or young adult recreation club or group? Are there social skills groups, coaches and mentors, or other supports available in the community or with professionals who are specifically trained in ASD? How can you become involved in the club or organization? If you are living far from home, are there families in the area who have young adults or teens on the autism spectrum who might serve as part of your circle of support?

Independent living Skills

You may worry about living skills such as organization and time management upon entering college. It is important for you to work to begin to develop these skills in the transition plan while still in high school. These skills can include: managing time, setting priorities and organizing assignments and free time. It is very important for you to maintain structure in your life in college. Structure is still there in college, but it needs to be more self-imposed. There is quite a bit more free time in college. Very often, the amount of time spent on homework and studying exceeds the amount of time spent in the classroom. You will need to be able to create new routines to adjust to the many changes in daily life that happen between high school and college. Self-advocacy is essential. If you are living on your own, you may need to cultivate skills relating to independent living skills such as cleaning, managing finances, solving problems and doing laundry. It is essential to note that these types of independent living skills should be worked on prior to leaving high school.

Additional Supports on Campus

Your family might also wish to investigate whether campus support programs available to all students are adequate to support you. Questions to ask might include: Are there peer mentors on campus assigned to fellow students with disabilities or mentors with background or interests in disability studies, psychology, special education, physical, occupational or speech therapy, or even someone majoring in the ASD student’s area of deep interest? What specific supports or programs does the tutoring center offer? Does the center help students learn to plan for study time, create lists, organize schedules and belongings, and develop strategies for testtaking and submitting long-term projects such as research papers or lab experiments?

Many campuses now have disability clubs that are self-run by individuals with a variety of disabilities. These clubs might be a good source of social activity for you. Some also sponsor campus awareness campaigns that you might wish to join.

Learn more in Autism Speaks Postsecondary Educational Opportunities Guide.