Perkins School for the Blind Transition Center

Supporting Autistic Adults: Am I College Ready?

Am I college ready? Such a question drew the attention of high school senior students in college readiness sessions at AHRC New York City’s Middle/High School. College readiness encompasses academic, social, and emotional learning support for students with autism and intellectual disabilities to transition effectively from school to higher education. It is more than having appropriate levels of reading, writing, and math; the focus is placed on knowledge and skills that would help them transition and navigate college life.

Young man with a backpack looking back at the camera with friends in the background

Transition Services

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amended (IDEA) in 2004 mandates that transition planning for neurodiverse students should occur by the time students turn 15. Students should be assessed via vocational assessments during their transition phase to determine their interests and career/occupational path. When assisting students transitioning to college programs, students must increase non-academic skills, such as self-advocacy, self-determination, and executive functioning skills. Such skills are applied by ensuring students participate in service-learning programs, integrating classroom learning through service to the community, internship activities, apprenticeships, and employment mentorship. In preparation for pathways to college, students and parents should attend college readiness sessions during their senior year in high school.

When the time comes for students with autism and intellectual disabilities to transition to college programs, they must acquire the skills to register for college courses, knowledge of college accommodations, manage their schedule independently, and seek assistance when needed. However, research demonstrates that not all high school students with autism and intellectual disabilities are taught or have knowledge of the transition activities necessary to navigate college.1 One study showed the reason that some students with autism and intellectual disabilities lacked such knowledge is that “no one informed or talked to them in a meaningful way about college readiness.” 2 Students with autism and intellectual disabilities may experience challenges in feeling college ready. However, students can succeed when schools provide appropriate support during their transition stage. Therefore, our school implemented college readiness sessions at AHRC New York City’s Middle/High School for students who expressed interest and would like to pursue higher education upon graduation from high school.

College Readiness

College readiness is one of the most crucial transition activities educators can provide to students with autism and intellectual disabilities. When students learn how to research, write, communicate appropriately, and work independently, they develop habits that will help them in all areas of their adult lives. There are some strategies that educators may already utilize during instruction to help students transition to college-level education, such as study skills and research techniques, written and oral communication skills, critical thinking, and collaboration. Furthermore, educators implement independent classroom learning, time management, organizational skills, and the importance of planners for college readiness. In addition to the strategies educators may utilize for college ready preparation, students should acquire knowledge on specific topics to help them navigate college life.

AHRC New York City’s Middle/High School implemented college readiness sessions in December 2023. The college readiness sessions consist of 45-minute weekly sessions with high school senior students. Topics of discussion are geared toward self-awareness, college planning, decision-making skills, knowing their disability, and reviewing their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504 Accommodation Plan (504 Plan) for students who have a disability but do not receive special education services. Understanding the law when it shifts from special education to higher education is important to understand, as is how the shift in the law impacts their lives as adults, college research, types of colleges or universities, college accessibility services and accommodations, types of college degrees, admission process, and financial aid. In AHRC New York City’s Middle/High School’s first college readiness session, students were given a folder with a copy of their IEP, college planning tools, & college ready information. One student asked, “Why do I need a copy of my IEP?”

Students pursuing college pathways should be familiar with their IEP or 504 Plan and actively participate in annual reviews. Students’ active participation in their annual IEP meetings or implementation of 504 plans allows them to promote self-determination and self-advocacy, which are non-academic skills necessary to transition to college life. For example, students reviewed the testing accommodations provided to students in special education. Learning about testing accommodations helps students with autism and intellectual disabilities understand their accommodations according to their needs, increase their self-awareness, and plan how to request reasonable accommodations. Students asked what their rights were to disclose their disability when applying for college accessibility/disability services to request accommodations.

Under students’ rights, college students can self-disclose their disability if they choose to. While some students may share this aspect of their identity to provide a comprehensive picture of themselves and the college services they are applying for, others may choose to keep it private. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prevents higher education settings from disclosing a student’s disability without the student’s consent.3 However, when students choose to self-disclose their disability, we encourage them to focus on how it has shaped their identity, influenced their academic journey and community experiences, and contributed to their personal growth. Therefore, the accessibility/disability offices may comprehensively understand their reasonable accommodation request. When requesting reasonable accommodations, students have the right to receive accommodations approved by the Office of Accessibility/Disability Services, and they have the right to appeal the approved decision.4 From a legal standpoint, a student asked, “How am I legally protected when I transition to a college program?”

Understanding the Law

Students with autism and intellectual disabilities in special education settings are covered by critical federal laws such as the IDEA, subpart D of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which redefined the term disability in Section 504 and ADA.5 IDEA is an educational law requiring schools to provide educational services to students with supportive accommodations and additional services to help them succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.6 However, when students with autism and intellectual disabilities transition from high school to a college program, students are covered by two federal civil rights laws, subpart E of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADAA. Under the civil rights laws, college students may register with the Office of Accessibility/Disability Services and request reasonable accommodations. Furthermore, colleges are not required to provide specialized classes.7 While gaining knowledge on how the law differs between high school special education and higher education settings, students should be encouraged to conduct college research to help them determine what type of college they would like to attend based on the services colleges provide. Students’ interest in our college readiness sessions focused on community colleges.

College Life in Community Colleges

Students with autism and intellectual disabilities are increasingly involved in pursuing higher education.8 A growing body of research demonstrates that students with autism and intellectual disabilities begin college life at community colleges.9 Community colleges are expanding their services to help students with autism and intellectual disabilities achieve their career goals. Students may begin college life through college transition experience programs. College transition experience programs allow students with autism and intellectual disabilities to introduce themselves to the experience of college life, civic engagement, academic advisement, and participate in college courses with support services.10 Community colleges are typically non-residential higher education settings. Therefore, students commute from home via public transportation or ride-share services or are transported by family members. Career advisers or mentors can assist students explore their skills, values, and future goals and support them with internships and paths to employment.11 AHRC New York City’s Middle/High School students who have visited community colleges as part of their transition activities have generally expressed that attending a community college would be a better transition as it would be easier to learn and navigate college life. How can students move forward to complete the correct steps to transition to a college program?

As students with disabilities embark on their journey to further their education via college transition and matriculated programs, schools and educators need to recognize, identify, and implement a college planning timeline for students and families. A college planning timeline ensures a plan that students and families may follow with the support of the school clinical team and transition coordinators to ensure a successful transition to college life. Below is a sample of a college timeline that students and families may follow during school transition to college. It is important that parents/caregivers be active participants in their child’s IEP meetings, college research, and college admissions process. Parents should become comfortable and knowledgeable about their child’s disability and how the law differs from high school to college.

College Planning Timeline/Junior Year


  • College planning via college readiness sessions
  • Discuss personal statement prompts and essays for the college students are applying
  • Complete SAT or HSE practice tests
  • Discuss transition services, career planning, and social services the student may require (i.e., NYS Office of People with Developmental Disabilities eligibility & Care Management)


  • College Research & Interest Surveys


  • Regents Examinations for students pursuing local/Regents high school diplomas
  • Potential College Visits
  • Choosing a college/university


  • Regents Examinations for those pursuing local/Regents high school diplomas
  • Discuss the college list and application deadlines.


  • Preparing for local/Regent’s diploma.
  • Regents Examinations for students pursuing local/Regents high school diplomas

College Planning Timeline/Senior Year


  • College planning via college readiness sessions
  • Discuss admissions applications and personal statements
  • Review application deadlines and recommendations
  • Discuss completed applications ready to be submitted to colleges
  • Discuss transition planning, career planning, and student exit summary with parents, school district, and Care Coordinator


  • Regents Examinations for students pursuing local/Regents high school diplomas


  • Regents Examinations for students pursuing local/Regents high school diploma
  • Discuss the final choice for college/university.

Trudy Ann Pines, EdD, is an Assistant Principal at AHRC NYC Middle/High School in Brooklyn, Co-Chair of Brooklyn DD Council Children Services, and serves as a Care Manager for Care Design New York. She conducts family support workshops via the AHRC NYC Family Education Series. She earned a Doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Innovation-Administration at St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens, Florida. Her research interest includes addressing school transitions for students with autism and intellectual disabilities. She is collaborating with the Brooklyn Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and other Disabilities (LEND) at SUNY Downstate Health Science University to address transition services in autistic youth. Trudy Ann resides with her family in Brooklyn. In her free time, she runs outdoors, practices journal writing, writes, and spends quality time with her daughter.


1, 10. Dwyer P., Mineo E., Mifsud K., Lindholm C., Gurba A., Waisman TC (2023). Building Neurodiversity-Inclusive Postsecondary Campuses: Recommendations for Leaders in Higher Education. Autism Adulthood, 5(1),1-14.

2, 8, 11. Newman, L.A., Macau’s, J.W., Javitz, H.S. (2016). Effect of Transition Planning on Postsecondary Support Receipt by Students with Disabilities. Exceptional Children, 82(4), 497-514.

3. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974, 20 USC 1232g.

4, 7. Hamblet, E. (2023). Seven steps to college success: A pathway for students with disabilities. Rodman & Littlefield Publishers.

5. Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008, PL 110-325, 42 USC 12101 et seq.

6. Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004, PL. 108-446, 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq.

7. Laroque, P. (2020). Taking flight: The guide to college for diverse learners and non-traditional students. Morgan James Publishing.

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