College is the opportunity to gain some independence, learn time management and make new friends. But high school graduates with autism spectrum disorder often choose not to enroll because of the academic and social demands of college life.
One university in Indiana is working to help them get their degrees. Marian University’s “Spectrum of Knights” program offers individualized support for these students, who can choose to study for any major and pursue internships the university offers.
Marian University Autism Coordinator Hannah Melton said class instruction is one-on-one and was created to meet specific needs.
“Social engagement, academic support, and life and professional skills development,” said Melton. “As we know, these are often the areas that students on the spectrum may have some challenges during their college studies.”
Melton said autistic students can thrive with additional support to navigate the college environment.
According to the Organization for Autism Research, of the 50,000 teens on the spectrum graduating from high school annually in the U.S. – at least one-third go on to college, but experience lower employment rates.
The report suggests taking a gap year or attending summer college-readiness programs may lead to a more successful college experience for those with ASD.
A report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities says college students with ASD often skip higher-ed because they’re concerned about what others may think of them, or that they’ll be perceived negatively by faculty who don’t know about certain disabilities.
They also aren’t sure what kinds of disability-related services are available at college or how to access them.
Melton said Marian is reviewing more ways to make its campus more accommodating to ASD students.
“Something that we are trying to get started is to create a Neurodiversity Advisory Council,” said Melton. “We’re hoping to have some faculty members who also identify as either autistic or neurodiverse.”
Research indicates college students with ASD may have trouble managing money, organizing their time or communicating their needs to a professor or counselor.
Melton said peer tutors are available weekly for support, academic tutoring, and a comfortable environment to discuss how the student is doing.
The academic year that starts this fall will be Marian University’s first full year to have an entire cohort of students in the Spectrum of Knights program.