High school students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), without intellectual or language impairment (ASD-WoILI), are attending college at rates higher than previously reported, but research indicates they may not be receiving the services they need (Kuder & Accardo, 2017). While federal and state laws provide general guidance related to transition planning and preparation for students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), students without IEPs do not receive formal planning or preparation. Moreover, research has shown that students with ASD-WoILI may not possess the skills of self-determination, self-advocacy, and self-management by their mid-late teen years; skills needed to improve their adjustment to college, to aid in the completion of their program of study, and to promote their independent living (Ames et al., 2016; White et al., 2017).
Self-determination requires the individual to identify a goal and to develop a plan for achieving it. Self-advocacy requires knowledge of one’s condition/disability and communicating what accommodations are needed to reduce handicap. Self-management requires executive functioning and emotion regulation skills in order to be self-sufficient (White et al., 2017). The neurodevelopmental nature of ASD can delay or preclude development of these skills, thereby diminishing the student’s ability to be personally and socially self-sufficient (White et al., 2017). Therefore, assessing a student’s readiness for transition to college and identifying what support/services may be needed is essential to all involved in the student’s success.
Student assessment using interviews and rating scales should occur about a year prior to the end of the senior year. For students with ASD-WoILI and without an IEP, assessment can be completed by a community-based licensed psychologist who has expertise in adolescents with ASD. Areas to assess include:
- ASD symptom profile and current levels (e.g., Social Responsiveness Scale-Second Edition (2012); Repetitive Behavior Scale-Revised (1999))
- The presence of co-occurring medical, emotional, and behavioral health conditions (e.g., medical record review, clinical interview)
- Current school participation (i.e., type, frequency, duration) (e.g., teacher reports, report cards, attendance records, discipline records)
- Adaptive performance (e.g., Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales-Third Edition, Comprehensive Interview (2016))
- Sources of stress and current coping skill repertoire (e.g., interview, Stress Survey Schedule For Individuals with Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities (1998))
Assessment of the support and services provided by a college should also be assessed and a determination made about the relative ‘fit’ between the identified student need(s) and the support/services provided by the college. A review of the programs listed on the College Autism Spectrum website indicated there are 76 college support service programs (CSSP) for students with ASD in the United States; 11 are in the Tri-State area. The majority of CSSP offered “generic” academic support services such as extra time on tests, extended deadlines for assignments, copies of instructor or peer notes, and separate testing location for exams. These accommodations are available to all students with an identified disability and not specific to students with ASD (Kuder & Accardo, 2018). Non-academic support services such as peer mentors or counselors were also offered by many programs.
CSSP varied in their admission criteria. Some programs do not require documentation to apply, while others require documentation such as recent psychoeducational or neuropsychological reports, copies of the IEP or 504 Plan (if applicable), official high school attendance report, and high school transcripts through 11th grade. Costs for services ranged from free to $9,180 per year.
To assist students and their parents with selecting a college, student assessment data on readiness may help with determining which college offers a majority or all of the support/services to address the majority of identified needs. Ideally, assessment data should be integrated and summarized into a report with recommendations specifying the support/services that are likely to benefit the student. A copy of this report should be provided, by the student, to the assigned representative of the college’s Disability/Student Support Office (D/SSO) or CSSP for collaborative determination of what accommodations and services will be provided, which may include establishing linkages within the broader college infrastructure (e.g., counseling center, academic support center) and the community (e.g., psychiatric practices, psychotherapy practices) for the student.
For those interested in colleges that advertise ASD-specific support services, visit this website. You are encouraged to review the support/services prior to college application to ensure they align with the majority of identified needs. Questions to ask of a representative from the program and then determining the likely ‘fit’ include:
- What services are offered?
- Are the services individualized?
- How accessible are the services (e.g., availability, response time)
- Do faculty understand and support the services?
- What is the cost of the program?
- How long has the program been in place?
- How many staff are a part of the program?
- Is there data on the program’s impact on student outcomes?
Assessing both student readiness levels and college ASD support services is critical to improving the individual outcomes of students with ASD who are attending college.
The primary authors are graduate students and the last author is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the School Psychology Program at Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY. The graduate students provide support services to undergraduate students with ASD through the college’s Spectrum Support Program.
Ames, M. E., McMorris, C. A., Alli, L. N., & Bebko, J. M. (2016). Overview and Evaluation of a Mentorship Program for University Students with ASD. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 31(1), 27–36. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088357615583465
Bodfish, J. W., Symons, F. W., & Lewis, M. H. (1999). The Repetitive Behavior Scale. Western Carolina Center Research Reports
Constantino, J.N., & Gruber, C. P.,(2012). Social Responsiveness Scale, Second Edition (SRS-2). Torrance, CA: Western Psychological Services
Groden, J., Cautela, J.R., Diller, A., Velicer, W., & Norman, G. (1998). The Stress Survey Schedule for Individuals with Autism and Other Pervasive Developmental Disabilities. Unpublished scale, The Groden Center.
Kuder, S. J., & Accardo, A. (2018). What Works for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(3), 722–731. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3434-4
Sparrow, S. S., Cicchetti, D. V, & Saulnier, C. A. (2016). Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (3rd ed.). Pearson.
White, S. W., Elias, R., Capriola-Hall, N. N., Smith, I. C., Conner, C. M., Asselin, S. B., Howlin, P., Getzel, E. E., & Mazefsky, C. A. (2017). Development of a College Transition and Support Program for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(10), 3072–3078. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3236-8