Autism and Postsecondary Education

Learn about autism and postsecondary education: overcoming challenges, exploring options and finding support.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
May 17, 2024

Autism and Postsecondary Education

Challenges in Postsecondary Education

Transitioning from high school to postsecondary education can be a complex process for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This transition often presents unique challenges and requires careful planning and support. In this section, we'll discuss two primary areas of difficulty: social interaction and emotion management.

Social Interaction Training Needs

Social interaction is often a challenge for students with ASD. These students primarily struggle with social tasks and skills of daily living, such as social interactions and making and maintaining social supports [1]. These challenges extend to developing interpersonal relationships, including engaging in small talk, establishing and maintaining long-lasting relationships, and desiring reciprocity in relationships. Many autistic students also report feeling lonely and experiencing a lack of social relationships.

Parents of adolescents and emerging adults with ASD frequently request social interaction training for their children, recognizing that this skill is essential for navigating the social complexities of postsecondary education. This training can help students with ASD develop the necessary social skills to form and maintain social relationships, participate effectively in group work, and engage in meaningful social interactions.

Managing Emotions in ASD Students

In addition to social interaction challenges, managing emotions can also be a significant obstacle for students with ASD in postsecondary settings. Parents report that their children have difficulties with self-advocacy, managing intense emotions, and managing personal/adaptive skills.

Autistic students often report more mental health difficulties than non-autistic students, particularly in the social components of university life. These challenges can lead to thoughts of withdrawal, highlighting the urgent need for support. Emotional support services, mental health counseling, and stress management programs can be beneficial resources for these students.

Understanding and addressing these challenges are critical steps in supporting students with ASD in their postsecondary education journey. Through appropriate training, accommodations, and support, these students can overcome these obstacles and thrive in their academic pursuits.

Transitioning to Postsecondary Education

Transitioning from high school to postsecondary education can be a significant challenge for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It's crucial to focus on the development of self-advocacy skills and the management of personal/adaptive skills during this transition phase.

Importance of Self-Advocacy

One of the key challenges that emerging adults with ASD face in the postsecondary setting is self-advocacy. Parents often report that their children struggle with expressing their needs and standing up for their rights when they transition to postsecondary education.

Self-advocacy is a vital skill that involves understanding one's strengths and weaknesses, confidently expressing needs and rights, and making decisions independently. For individuals with ASD, practicing self-advocacy can be particularly beneficial in the postsecondary environment. It can help them to navigate their educational journey, access necessary supports, and advocate for reasonable accommodations.

According to Autism Speaks, practicing discussions about autism, strengths, challenges, and past accommodations are essential for individuals preparing to enter postsecondary education. These skills will be critical for navigating college and adult life.

Navigating Personal/Adaptive Skills

In addition to self-advocacy, managing personal and adaptive skills is another important aspect of the transition to postsecondary education for individuals with ASD.

Educators identify competence, autonomy, independence, and the development of interpersonal relationships as primary areas of difficulty and need for postsecondary students with ASD.

Moreover, educators have noted difficulties with the self-sufficiency of students with ASD, especially in terms of knowing when to separate from parents and educators and appropriately utilizing and requesting supports. They also noted difficulties with executive function, such as time management and problem-solving skills.

Developing personal and adaptive skills can help individuals with ASD to manage their day-to-day activities, build relationships, and adapt to changing situations in the postsecondary environment. This includes skills like time management, problem-solving, communication, and interpersonal skills.

Supporting individuals with ASD in developing these skills can significantly ease their transition to postsecondary education and enhance their ability to succeed in this new environment. This support can come in various forms, including specialized training programs, mentoring, and accommodations in the educational setting.

In conclusion, the transition to postsecondary education can be challenging for individuals with ASD. However, with the appropriate support and focus on developing self-advocacy and personal/adaptive skills, they can successfully navigate this important phase of their educational journey.

Support and Accommodations

The transition from high school to postsecondary education brings a shift in the laws that govern accommodations for students with autism. Understanding these changes and how they relate to your child's needs can be instrumental in facilitating a smooth transition and ensuring they receive the necessary support during their postsecondary education.

ADA and Section 504 Laws

When your child transitions from high school to postsecondary education, their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) do not automatically transfer with them. The laws that govern accommodations in postsecondary education include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These laws are designed to ensure equal access and non-discrimination, but it's important to note that they do not guarantee success or progress, as is the focus in high school under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) [4].

Education Level Governing Laws Focus
High School IDEA Success and Progress
Postsecondary Education ADA and Section 504 Equal Access and Non-discrimination

While these laws provide a legal framework for accommodations, it is crucial to understand that the responsibility for accessing these accommodations shifts significantly towards the student once they reach postsecondary education.

Accessing Necessary Accommodations

In the postsecondary educational setting, individuals with autism may need to take proactive steps to receive services or accommodations. This involves disclosing their autism diagnosis, requesting the necessary accommodations, and providing documentation demonstrating that the requested accommodations are essential due to their disability.

Practicing self-advocacy is vital in this context. Encourage your child to discuss their strengths and challenges, as well as any past accommodations that have been beneficial. This information can be used to inform the development of a comprehensive support plan that addresses their unique needs in the postsecondary education environment.

Steps for Accessing Accommodations Description
Disclose Diagnosis The student needs to disclose their autism diagnosis to the relevant department or individual at their educational institution.
Request Accommodations The student should explicitly request the necessary accommodations.
Provide Documentation The student must provide documentation demonstrating the need for the requested accommodations due to their disability.

Remember, the transition to postsecondary education is a significant step for all students, and particularly so for those with autism. With the right support and accommodations in place, your child can navigate this exciting new chapter in their education with confidence and success.

Exploring Postsecondary Options

As parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it is essential to explore all available postsecondary education opportunities. With the increase in institutions offering autism-specific support programs, the choices have significantly broadened in recent years [4]. This section provides an insight into the diverse program options and offers guidance on finding the right fit for your child's needs.

Diverse Program Choices

Postsecondary education can continue beyond high school, catering to individuals as lifelong learners. ASD students have a variety of options to consider, from traditional universities and community colleges to vocational schools [4]. Each type of institution provides unique opportunities for growth and learning, and the best choice depends on the individual's interests, strengths, and career goals.

Universities and colleges typically offer a broad range of programs and degrees, providing opportunities for students to delve into their areas of interest. Vocational schools, on the other hand, focus on teaching specific skills that lead directly to employment.

Autism-specific support programs are also becoming more prevalent in postsecondary institutions. These programs provide tailored support to help students with autism navigate the academic and social aspects of college life.

Finding the Right Fit

Selecting the right postsecondary option for a child with autism involves understanding their needs, strengths, and long-term goals. The Postsecondary Educational Opportunities Guide is a valuable resource for exploring various program options and finding the best fit.

Several factors should be considered when choosing the right postsecondary option. These include:

  • Academic support services: Look for institutions that offer robust academic support services, such as tutoring, study skills training, and accommodations for exams.
  • Social support: Postsecondary institutions should foster an environment of inclusion and acceptance, promoting neurodiversity among students, faculty, and staff.
  • Career services: Institutions that provide career services can help students with autism plan for their future careers and secure internships or job placements.

Finding the right fit for autism and postsecondary education is a critical step towards a fulfilling adult life. By exploring diverse program choices, parents can help their children make informed decisions about their postsecondary education and future career paths.

Academic Challenges and Strengths

Autistic students face a distinctive set of academic challenges and strengths when pursuing postsecondary education. The hurdles they encounter include time management difficulties and processing speed, which are areas that may need targeted support. On the other hand, they exhibit remarkable strengths in memory skills and attention to detail, which can be great assets in their academic journey.

Time Management Difficulties

One of the significant challenges students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often grapple with is time management. According to NCBI, they struggle with comprehending instructions, stress related to increased independence, and completing assignments on time. Additionally, a study highlighted by PubMed Central indicates that students with ASD reported issues with processing speed and motivation to study, which can further exacerbate time management issues.

Providing explicit instructions and social supports during their academic pursuit can aid these students in overcoming these obstacles. Further, the use of planners, timers, and reminders can help manage their time efficiently, ensuring they stay on track with their assignments and other academic obligations.

Proficient Memory Skills

Despite the challenges they face, students with ASD also have distinct strengths that can be leveraged for their academic success. One such strength is their proficient memory skills. As reported in the PubMed Central study, students with ASD have a keen ability to remember details and adhere to rules when clear structure is provided.

This ability can be particularly advantageous in subjects that require memorization or adherence to specific methodologies. By harnessing this strength, educators can help students with ASD excel in their academic pursuits.

In sum, understanding the unique academic challenges and strengths of students with ASD is crucial for educators and support staff. By acknowledging and addressing these factors, they can provide the appropriate accommodations and strategies to help these students thrive in their postsecondary education.

Mental Health and Support

Supporting the mental health of students with autism as they transition to postsecondary education is a vital but often overlooked aspect. It includes addressing common mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and emphasizing the importance of mental health services.

Addressing Depression and Anxiety

For students with autism, the transition to postsecondary education can be an exciting but also challenging time. Many experience elevated rates of co-occurring depression and anxiety, which can be exacerbated by the stressors of college life.

Depression, anxiety, social isolation, and feelings of marginalization are commonly reported experiences among autistic college students. Autistic females may be at higher risk for these mental health issues than their male counterparts. Notably, students have cited depression and anxiety as among the top five barriers to college success.

Aside from the academic challenges, these students face significant mental health difficulties, particularly in the social components of university life. Self-reported challenges include social skills, lack of social support opportunities, and levels of ASD awareness from others. Many autistic students also reported thoughts of withdrawal, further stressing the need for support [3].

Importance of Mental Health Services

Mental health services play a crucial role in promoting wellness and ensuring the successful completion of degrees for autistic students in postsecondary education. However, such students often have difficulty identifying and accessing the mental health supports they need. It's been observed that academic supports are more widely available than mental health supports in postsecondary institutions for autistic students [5].

There is a pressing need for research to understand the factors positively and negatively affecting their mental health and to identify the types of supports necessary. Postsecondary institutions should actively promote neurodiversity and inclusion to enhance the acceptance of autistic students by peers, faculty, and staff. Efforts should be made to reduce victimization and marginalization and create a more inclusive and accommodating postsecondary setting.

In conclusion, mental health support is an integral component of assisting students with autism in postsecondary education. Addressing their mental health needs and ensuring they have access to necessary services can significantly enhance their overall college experience and academic success.