According to a study by Harvard University, for the first time, it appears that increasing numbers of young adults on the autism spectrum are enrolling in college. Lisa Audet, a speech language pathologist who works at Kent State University, who has noticed the increase in the numbers of college bound autistic kids says, “This is a whole group that has been aging out of the high school realm and into college bound age and they have incredible strengths that need to be tapped and can really provide a service to the community and to society,” she explains.
The Harvard Review of Psychiatry study takes a closer look at the unmet needs of these students on the ASD spectrum who are now fixing their gaze on higher education. One of the biggest concerns in this area lies in the process of transitioning to a much more independent system of schooling. Looking at interviews of 20 successful college graduates with disabilities and surveys from the disability providers from their school revealed that a huge part of their success was attributed to the relationships students made with their disability services and faculty, tutoring centers and accommodations. The study suggests that integrating the existing strengths of the support systems already in place in high school for students with ASD would serve to help us figure out best practices, facilitate the transition process between high school and college, improve their academic outcomes and mental health, and overall contribute to a more positive college experience.
One student at Kent State, Nicholas Piazza, is a higher functioning individual with Asperger’s and has not missed a single class his freshman year. Currently his workload includes, intro to philosophy, algebra and trig, career navigation, chess club, and also works 25 hours a week. When asked about feeling different on campus he says, “I feel fine. I don’t really notice anything—if I told someone they wouldn’t even know I have it, because I sorta improved my social skills and everything else.” He says that he is considering a future as a math teacher.
Preparing students for school and higher education has alot to do with the resources that are available to them. Once schools start to realize that there is a growing population of students who need specific services in order to make them and their institutions successful, we should also begin seeing adjustments made in the services provided to disabled students. Also, building a strong foundation of interpersonal skills, like we do here at Shema-Kolainu, is a vital part of ensuring their future success especially in transitioning to young-adulthood and independence. To donate to Shema Kolainu and help us open our doors to more children as well as improve and build more resources, click here
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For the original Harvard study, click here