An Autistic Student Grows in Michigan: Accommodating Autism in American Colleges & Universities

A tree of hope is taking root in American colleges and universities.  Autistic students have a garden of opportunities available to them.  These programs help them to move beyond not only accommodating their disability, but achieving economic stability through earning a degree.

These options are sowing seeds of change into autistic students’ lives, and this change couldn’t have come at a better time.

According to the journal Pediatrics, “one-third of young people with autism spectrum disorders attended college in the first six years after high school.”  Since “one in 88 children [has been] diagnosed with a disability on the autism spectrum, according to the advocacy group Autism Speaks,” those numbers may make up a significant portion of the college population.

Colleges and universities already have interventions in place to assist those students who are below level in reading, writing, and English language proficiency.  Autistic students need accommodations, too.

Here is what’s available:

  • Supplemental support programs for additional tuition
  • Supplemental support from for-profit companies unaffiliated with colleges
  • Expanding programs at institutions that have traditionally served students with disabilities to offer four-year degrees
  • Improved programs within existing college disability programs that offer services for free


Supplemental support programs are on the rise, with one opening this fall atNovaSoutheasternUniversityinFloridathis fall.

Tony Saylor, a student atEasternMichiganUniversity, is benefitting from the college’s supplemental support program. The program assigns a graduate student to accompany him to his classes.  His professors understand that his doodling enables him to process information.  His artwork also serves another purpose:  it is a collection of ideas for additional books in his self-published series on Viper Girl. Tony wants more for his life than fast food restaurant jobs; he desires to be self-sufficient.

But there may be some weeds to watch out for in this garden of educational opportunities.  For-profit companies have great services, but they are at a high cost.

Some programs and services can cost $50,000 or more.  Some colleges and universities advertise accommodations for students with disabilities in order to gain more money through additional tuition.  When the autistic students enroll and begin classes, they soon learn that the institutions lack the necessary resources for them.

Tony Saylor has faced the situation before transferring toEasternMichiganUniversity.  Previously, he attended another college that did not have resources to help him.

There are resources for autistic parents that will give them information about what kinds of programs are available at universities and colleges:



The good news is colleges and universities are recognizing the growing need for better disability services.  As other autistic students forge their path through higher learning, they can become landmarks to others who want to be trees of change.


*Pope, Justin.  “New College Options for Students with Disabilities.”  Albany Times Union.  September 15, 2013.