university with autism (2023)

Preparing for college can be a stressful time for any student. With so much change on the horizon, your anxiety may be running a bit high. For some, this pre-college anxiety is manageable, but for others it can be more difficult to manage. If you have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the idea of ​​changing and losing your routine can especially affect you. However, taking the time to create a college transition readiness plan can make a big difference in your overall success. So where do you start?

Before you sign up and head to campus, knowing exactly what you're getting into can help you eliminate surprises along the way. Whether it's getting familiar with some of the common challenges, finding the right college to meet your needs and wants, or familiarizing yourself with campus resources, it's never too early to plan your college move. Learn about the obstacles ahead and get expert advice on how to thrive as a student with ASD before making the leap to higher education.

Common challenges for college students with autism

While each student experiences the world differently, many with ASD face a unique set of challenges in communicating with others, navigating social situations, dealing with unpredictable schedules, and responding to stimuli in new settings. Here is a list of some of the most common challenges that can come up with college.

Difficulty reading social situations.

People with ASD may have difficulty reading verbal and nonverbal cues and facial expressions in social interactions. They may also be unsure how to engage friends or strangers, making them feel overwhelmed by the new social challenges in college settings. Students with ASD may need the help of a professional, such as an occupational therapist, speech therapist, or behavioral therapist, to practice communication and social skills, such as timing, paying attention, and navigating group conversations.

changes in routine

Many people with ASD prefer predictable routines. College-level students with ASD may experience disruptions in their routines, especially with less predictable daily schedules, changing classroom environments, and new social situations. Changes in the routine of students with ASD can generate anxiety and depression.

Self-regulation of emotions

Students with ASD may have trouble adapting their behaviors to stressful or challenging situations, overreact, or experience long-lasting negative emotions. In accordance withCenter for Applied Behavior in Autism, students with ASD may also be prone to emotional outbursts, have a short temper, or are less likely to consider the consequences of their responses to stressful scenarios.

Executive function problems

Advance planning, goal setting, scheduling, and organizing all fall under the category of executive functions. For many students with ASD, these goal-oriented priority setting characteristics can be overwhelming. Other problems related to executive function include remembering details, multitasking, and managing time. Even with the help of campus resources and housing services, managing complex schedules can be quite difficult.

Distractions in educational settings

Students with ASD may also have difficulty paying attention in class for long periods of time, especially if they find the subject uninteresting. The challenge becomes even more difficult in large classes or in classes with distracting physical surroundings, such as large windows, multiple entrances and exits, or flashing lights.

Find your university partner

While each student experiences the world differently, many with ASD face a unique set of challenges in communicating with others, navigating social situations, dealing with unpredictable schedules, and responding to stimuli in new settings. Here is a list of some of the most common challenges that can come up with college.

types of schools

Let's take a closer look at the types of programs that may best suit students with ASD, from four-year universities and community colleges to trade schools, cooperative education, and online learning.

four year colleges

Four-year schools generally have the staff and resources to provide excellent support for students with ASD. Some schools may even offer support services beyond those required by federal law. However, when seeking services at larger schools, it is important to find out how much individual counseling or one-on-one attention students with ASD receive.

community college

(Video) Autism And University

Community colleges offer affordable certificate and two-year programs that make it easy for students with ASDs to enter college life. In many cases, students can find community college options closer to home, allowing for a more comfortable overall experience. Community colleges may not have the same extensive resources as four-year institutions, so it's best to find out what support services are available for students with autism and whether the college is certified to teach students with autism.

Trade, technical and vocational schools

Vocational schools help students with ASD learn practical skills and trades from trained professionals. By developing these career-oriented skills, students also work on their communication and social skills. Business, technical, and vocational schools are often great, affordable options for students with ASD who want to train in a specific field and enter the workforce sooner rather than later.

cooperative education

Cooperative education programs provide students with practical work experience to complement their classroom studies. These programs are becoming increasingly popular and help students make the transition from school to work. In many cases, co-op education is more intensive and demanding than a traditional internship. Usually, students are paid for this work.

online university

Many colleges and universities offer degrees online. With their growing popularity and use of the latest learning technologies, online degrees offer many of the same educational experiences as traditional classroom learning. They may be a good option for students with ASD who are more comfortable learning at home. Remote programs often offer great scheduling flexibility and are good for students managing a complex life or work schedule outside of school.

College templates for students with autism

As you research your options, you will find that there are three main models of learning for affordable degrees in the US: hybrid, separate, and inclusive individual support. These models serve to place students with disabilities in the flow of college life, meeting their unique learning needs.


In hybrid learning models, students with ASD take some courses with students with disabilities. These are sometimes called "transition" or "life skills" classes. The rest of his courses are academic in focus and take place in standard classrooms with neurotypical peers. While life skills classes help students develop valuable tools for college and career, students with ASD in traditional classrooms may not receive the necessary attention or specialized instruction to help them thrive.


In separate models, students with ASDs take classes alongside other students with disabilities. Students can greatly benefit from specially designed study plans and smaller classes. These programs often incorporate academic and life skills classes. One downside to this model is that some students may have problems with the attitudes or behaviors of their peers, making this a difficult environment for sensitive or easily distracted students.

inclusive individual support

One-on-one support models provide students with individualized services to help them navigate life and college courses. This support comes from off-campus resources and third-party organizations and is dependent on the active participation, vision, and decision-making of the student (along with the help of their parents or guardians). While these support services can be very beneficial for many college students, some students may not be ready to make decisions, define career goals, or embark on a specific path of study.

What to look for in a university

By researching colleges, you can identify a handful of services and features that may best serve you or your child as an ASD student. From getting institutional support through accommodations and disability services to finding programs that offer more individualized attention, there are options available to meet your needs.

disabled services

UnderAmericans with Disabilities Act(ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1972, academic institutions must provide accommodations for their enrolled students, whether they are taking classes online or in person.

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Many schools also have an Office of Disability Services dedicated to providing specific support for students with documented disabilities, including ASD. Contact the Office of Student Services or the Office of Disability Services directly to submit a formal accommodation request.

smaller classes

Whether you're looking for smaller schools overall or programs for students with disabilities that have smaller class sizes, fewer students in a classroom can mean more individualized attention. Plus, smaller classes generally mean you'll have fewer distractions from other students and you'll be able to focus more on your schoolwork.

Interest-Based Clubs

Social involvement through clubs is a great way for any college student to make connections. While some ASD students may greatly benefit from meeting with their peers in person, others may benefit from meeting virtually. ASD students who are less comfortable with fully face-to-face meetings may want to look into clubs with a hybrid format.

support networks

All students, neurotypical and with disabilities, need support networks. Whether you choose a school closer to home to be closer to family and friends or choose a college with a supportive community for students with disabilities, support networks are invaluable in navigating college life.

Student Demographics

If you are an ASD student, find out if your prospective school has experience supporting students with autism. Ask if newly enrolled or current students are on the autism spectrum; If so, the professionals at the school most likely have the experience and resources to provide the support necessary for success. Also, if there is already a population of students with autism at the school, this can serve as a great starting point for networking and building a support network.

Creating your college transition plan

OIndividuals with Disabilities Education Act(IDEA) requires public schools to provide necessary supports and services for students ages 3-21. For high school students, it is important to develop a personalized and goal-oriented plan so they can better prepare for the future. High school staff, including school counselors, school administrators, and school psychologists, to name a few, can help parents, guardians, and students make helpful plans for the transition to life after high school.

OneIndividualized Education ProgramThe IEP plays an essential role in preparing students with autism for life after graduation, whether it be independent living and employment or a degree from a college or university. The IEP is a goal-oriented plan, formulated by students and their parents or guardians with the help of experienced teachers, administrators, and other professionals, that exploits the strengths of students.

The IEP includes a timeline for achieving the student's goals and which teachers and other professionals are involved in helping the student achieve those goals. According to education consultant Janet Ferone, "IEP teams should consider transition planning at age 16, or younger in some states, and make referrals to appropriate agencies, such as the state vocational rehabilitation office." Ferone also notes that state vocational rehabilitation offices offer support for the transition to college, including funding for technology and textbooks and case management support.

In an increasingly digital and technological world, ASD students must also include in their IEP a plan to transfer all assistive technologies they use to be successful in school. Some students need specialized software, hardware, or low-tech adaptations to thrive. The IEP must include detailed information about who owns these tools or devices (the school or the student) and how students with ASD will obtain the assistive technologies they need when they graduate from high school.

For more information on transition plans, see the list of resources also offers agreat online toolkitfor parents and students planning to go to college.

Discover accommodation for the disabled

In educational settings, all students have the same rights. Public and private schools that are not affiliated with religious organizations must follow the laws established by the ADA. Any school that receives $2,500 or more in federal funds per year must also comply with the laws of the ADA. In short, as a student with ASD, the ADA prevents schools from denying you admission, excluding you from classes or activities, and convincing you to pursue a specific major or major because of your documented disability.

If you feel your rights are not being met, please contact your academic advisor and your school's Office of Disability Services. You can also file a complaint with theUnited States Department of Education Office for Civil RightsIt's inJustice Department.

Attending College Away From HomeFair Housing Rights

Leaving home can be a challenging and stressful life change for any student. For students with ASD, moving to a new location can cause a serious disruption to their routines and home environment. At first, attending a new school can also nullify your usual support. Educational consultant Janet Ferone suggests students take advantage of telehealth counseling in addition to any on-campus resources to help ease the transition.

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There are other steps you can take to feel more comfortable away from home. Ferone emphasizes the benefits of students with ASD by immediately establishing a predictable and detailed schedule to help restore a sense of normalcy. Second, Ferone suggests taking several campus visits after you receive your acceptance letter and before classes start to familiarize yourself with your new surroundings.

Expert Q&A: Going to College with Autism

university with autism (1)

After more than 30 years as an administrator for the Boston Public Schools, responsible for programs for adolescents with special needs, Janet Ferone, MEd, is president of Ferone Educational Consulting, which provides training, program design and evaluation, and technical support to transform the schools. in places where all students thrive. She is also an Associate Professor at Lesley University and Curry College Graduate Schools of Education. Ferone is a frequent speaker on mental health issues at national and international educational conferences.

Q: What is your experience working with students with autism?

A:I was an administrator of a high school program for students with moderate to severe autism. Supervised teachers and paraprofessionals and coordinated students' academic, vocational, and social services, including transition to adulthood. I've also worked with students with less severe autism integrating academically and helping them make the transition to college.

I am currently an educational consultant supporting schools in serving all of their students with disabilities, with an emphasis on autism and mental health. As an adjunct professor at two teacher training institutes, I work with future special education teachers, helping them successfully educate students with disabilities, including autism. I am currently teaching a graduate course for teachers, Transition to Adulthood, to support students as they finish their high school careers and move into adult services and employment/college.

Q: In your experience as a high school administrator, what are some of the things that a student with autism (or their parents/guardians) should look for in a college/university?

A:Hopefully, guidance from the student's high school or special education department can help the student and family. There are also various websites likePeterson'soCollege, which can help narrow your search. Because autistic students vary so much, it is important to match the student's preferences, strengths, and interests with the school. If possible, a visit to potential universities is essential. Students must immerse themselves in the atmosphere and do a “gut check” on how they feel on campus. Do they feel comfortable and welcome? Can you imagine yourselves on campus? Check the bulletin boards: do they include many different groups and perspectives?

Although most schools have a disability office, test its strength by checking to see if it is open every day and what services it offers. Some have only limited peer tutoring, but autistic students require a wide range of services, including a transition program that not only provides academic support, but also life skills such as hygiene awareness, bedroom etiquette, self-advocacy and communication with peers and teachers Does the school have staff experienced with autistic students to help with visual timelines, planning deadlines and assignments, and thinking outside the box for unique strategies? Also check out the health center services, including mental health counselling, social support group and self-care options. Be sure to find out if there are other autistic students attending the university.

Q: How are IEP teams involved in students' transition to college? What should students with autism (and their parents or guardians) know about this process?

A:The transition process is necessary for all students with IEPs and works best when students are taught early on to learn about themselves: their interests, how they learn best, what support they need, and how to advocate for themselves. Many schools focus on student self-determination and have student-led IEP meetings that really make student voices heard. IEP teams must consider transition planning before age 16 (or younger in some states) and make referrals to appropriate agencies, such as state vocational rehabilitation. This office can provide faculty transition support, including technology and textbook funding, as well as case management support.

Q: What advice would you give about the transition to college in general? Do you have any advice for students planning to attend college in a new location, away from home?

A:Particularly for students with autism who may be too reliant on routines and slow to adapt to change, it is extremely helpful to have an established relationship with a qualified counselor who can provide coping mechanisms and support in dealing with a new environment and situations. Given the availability of telehealth counseling, it would be ideal to have a counselor who can continue with the student online for continuity, while also establishing a relationship with the faculty counselors on site, with both therapists communicating. All parties should work together to develop a detailed and predictable schedule of when the student will visit home and/or when the family will visit, as well as a specific “what if” list of support: if a specific situation arises, what if? Who should I turn to for support? What coping strategies do I use?

Several visits to the university after acceptance can help to get acquainted, and ideally would include meeting current students with autism. A pre-orientation session and extensive meetings with the student's academic advisor to share as much information as possible, perhaps involving the family if the student agrees, would also be ideal.

Q: Is there an online resource that you would like to recommend to our readers?

A:ORed University of Autism(CAN) is a non-profit organization that connects multiple stakeholders involved in evidence-based efforts to improve access and outcomes for post-secondary students with autism.

Resources and support for college students with autism

Academic Support for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Overview

(Video) Being (undiagnosed!) AUTISTIC at university

Marci Wheeler, MSW, provides an excellent overview of the communication and social challenges facing students with ASD in college today.

Center for Applied Behavior for Autism: Improving emotional self-regulation

This article contains tips for parents or guardians and students with ASD on how to manage their reactions and behaviors.

Campus Disability Resource Database

CeDaR provides a search engine to help you find information about the services and offerings of higher education institutions for the disabled.

Child Mind Institute: Going to College with Autism

Beth Arky addresses the critical needs of students with autism as they age and attend college.

Fund for Education and Defense of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Founded in 1979, DREDF strives to educate students about their rights under state and federal law. The organization also offers legal assistance in disputes related to the rights of people with disabilities.

Friends of DO-IT

This organization helps students with disabilities prepare for college and careers with online counseling and academic training.

Inclusive Higher Education Certification Program

IHECP offers certificate programs, inclusive support services, and college training for students of all backgrounds and abilities.

Road2College: colleges with cooperative programs

Here you can find an excellent overview of co-op programs, information related to financial aid, and a list of schools that offer hands-on co-op programs.

Seattle Children's Hospital: Autism and coping with change

Karen Burner, PhD, offers advice on how to help students with ASD cope with changes in their environment.

SPARK: Finding a College Program for Students with Autism

SPARK provides a great overview of the tools you can use to find the right college program. The article also includes answers to many frequently asked questions by ASD students applying to colleges.

(Video) Autistic at university


1. A Curtin University mentoring program is helping students with autism stick to their studies | 7.30
(ABC News (Australia))
2. Disclosing Autism in Higher Education (Should you disclose Aspergers to your University?)
(Autism From The Inside)
3. Autism & University - My Experience As An AUTISTIC Law School Drop Out
(Orion Kelly - That Autistic Guy)
4. Students who face challenges of college with autism
5. Chris Packham: University Life with Autism Part 1 | University of Lincoln
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6. Supporting College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders
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