College Options for Students on the Autism Spectrum (2022)

Though it was first described nearly a century ago, autism spectrum disorder has been poorly understood throughout the 20th century. Autistic people have suffered from destructive myths and misconceptions that limited their ability to achieve in neurotypical-dominated environments.

Today, while the DSM classification of “disorder” stands, many autistic self-advocates have pushed for a fuller understanding of autism as a neurological difference rather than a disability. While many autistic people struggle with independence, a more comprehensive understanding of ASD in recent years has led to a broader understanding of autistic people’s strengths.

With our growing understanding of autism, both colleges and employers are beginning to make intentional efforts to support neurodiversity and provide autistic students and workers with the resources and accommodations they need to succeed. When only 41% of students with disabilities graduate from college, the right support is crucial.

College Options for Students on the Autism Spectrum (1)

A Note on Language: “Autistic” vs “With Autism”

As our understanding of autism has developed, so has our understanding of autistic people. While we frequently see terms like “people with autism,” autistic self-advocates have argued for many years that autism is an identity. Just as we do not describe black people as “people with blackness” or gay people as “people with gayness,” autistic people who describe themselves almost overwhelmingly prefer “autistic” to “with autism.”

Resources for Autistic College Students

Adult Autism Center – Autism and College: Your Comprehensive Preparation Guide

The Adult Autism Center of Lifelong Learning offers this guide to help college students achieve academic success in college, ranging from individualized academic support to social skills development.

American Autism Association – College Programs for Students with Autism

The American Autism Association offers this thorough guide to colleges that offer autism support programs, such as peer mentoring, college life skills, or a dedicated autism transitional education program.

Autism Goes to College

Autism Goes to College is a national college success program for autistic students, providing academic support services, guides for academic planning, and other autistic programs on and off the college campus.

Autistic Self-Advocacy Network – Navigating College

The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network is a leading organization dedicated to helping autistic people speak for themselves. They offer the book Navigating College as a free PDF or for sale in a print version.

Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network

(Video) College and Students on the Autism Spectrum

The Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network provides support, advocacy, and education for women, girls, and nonbinary autistic people.

Child Mind Institute – Going to College with Autism

This article from the Child Mind Institute describes the challenges in autism education, offering resources for achievement and learning success with autism programs.

College Autism Network

The College Autism Network is a comprehensive program dedicated to encouraging autistic students to go to college, and providing the academic and social support necessary for success.

College Autism Spectrum – College Programs

The College Autism Spectrum is a valuable resource for students with autism spectrum disorders, including this comprehensive list of colleges offering an autism support program.

College Internship Program

The College Internship Program works to help autistic young adults find success in independent living, employment, and education by teaching life skills and partnering with local and regional employers.

College Living Experience

College Living Experience is a transition program that has worked to help autistic college students go to college, find work, develop social skills, and live independently since 1989.

Developmental Disabilities Network Journal – Autistic College Students and COVID-19: Anxiety, Support Needs and Responses by Specialized Programs

This research study from the Developmental Disabilities Network Journal describes the effects that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on autistic college students and suggests ways colleges can support them.

Indiana Resource Center for Autism – Academic Supports for College Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Overview

(Video) Supporting College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

This research article from the Indiana Resource Center for Autism explains how colleges can provide support for autistic students, including accommodations for sensory issues, social skills, and coping skills.

Interactive Autism Network – Autism and the College Experience; Finding a College Program for Students with Autism

These articles from the Interactive Autism Network describe the college experience for autistic students, and details resources for students and parents to make their college experience successful.

Maine Autism Institute for Education and Research – Supporting College Students on the Autism Spectrum

The Maine Autism Institute offers resources for college students on the spectrum, including fact sheets and videos.

Organization for Autism Research – Finding Your Way

This downloadable guide from the Organization for Autism Research provides information and inspiration for autistic students, including advice from autism experts and autistic students.

Pennsylvania Training & Technical Assistance Network – College Partnership

The Pennsylvania Training & Technical Assistance Network provides extensive support for autistic students in Pennsylvania, such as dedicated programs in PA colleges and universities.

Rutgers University College Support Program

The Rutgers University College Support Program offers many resources for Rutgers students with autism, such as peer mentors, social events, therapy referrals, and other assistance.

Stairway to STEM

Stairway to STEM is an organization dedicated to helping autistic students who are interested in STEM transition into college.

Think College

(Video) Supporting College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The organization Think College works to help students with intellectual disabilities, including autistic students, find the resources and accommodations they need to succeed in college and in life.

Understanding the Experiences of Autistic College Students: An Exploratory Mixed-Methods Analysis

The authors of this research study conducted conversations with autistic college students to learn about their challenges and needs, and suggests programs that colleges and universities can use to improve their lives.

University of Louisville – Supporting College Students with Autism

The University of Louisville offers this site with resources for college students with autism, as well as resources for educators and institutions to make the college experience successful for autistic students.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga – Mosaic

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Mosaic program is a model program for autistic students, known for its comprehensive and holistic approach to success.

University of Texas -The Ultimate Resource Guide for STEM Students With Autism

This helpful guide from the University of Texas links to many resources for autistic students interested in STEM, including specializations like programming, engineering, and game design.

US Department of Education – Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights

This guide from the US Department of Education is designed to help autistic students and their parents understand their rights, under the ADA, and how they may advocate for their rights when they are not recognized by an institution.

Vanderbilt University – Mental Health Guide for Autistic College Students

This guide to mental health was written for autistic students at Vanderbilt University, but offers helpful information and recommendations that are applicable to autistic students anywhere in the US.

College Options for Students on the Autism Spectrum (2)

What Challenges Do Autistic Students Face in College?

One of the biggest struggles for individuals with autism is conventional socialization. Colleges and universities are normally teeming with people. Hallways and classes are often packed with people making it difficult for a person with mild to moderate autistic tendencies to find anything they would remotely consider a safe space. Another problem for individuals with autism is loud noises. Noisy places can lead to panic attacks, causing the student to shut down and withdraw from their class.

(Video) College Options for Students with Developmental Disabilities and Autism

Many autistic people also have ADHD, which is now understood to fall on a spectrum as well. In fact, some researchers have come to believe that autism and ADHD may not just be related, but actually different expressions of the same neurodivergence. As a result, though, many autistic college students also deal with other learning disabilities.

The best college for autistic students is one that offers an environment in which the student can thrive. This means access to quiet areas where they can go if they begin to get overwhelmed. It also means being in a classroom setting with fewer students. It’s also important for the student to have a mentor or advisor that is easily accessible if the student requires assistance. Ideal colleges for autistic students are those that pride themselves on smaller class sizes and a laid back, relaxed environment. A college that offers online degree programs is an excellent choice.

What are the Best College Programs for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Unfortunately, there is no universal standard, and different higher education institutions treat autistic students very differently. There are vast differences in the level of support across institutions, with challenges ranging from the college’s budget for support to issues written (or unwritten) into the school’s mission. Simply put, many colleges still do not prioritize the needs of autistic students and students with other disabilities.

So yes, all colleges and universities that accept federal aid are required to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the bare minimum is the bare minimum. Other institutions may offer more robust tutoring programs, socialization programs, autism-friendly residence halls, and more. Some will work with private sector providers to offer resources – sometimes for a fee.

In terms of the best degree programs for students with an autism spectrum disorder, autistic students can thrive in any type of degree program as long as the student has the resources and accommodations they need to complete the work. The best colleges for students with autism spectrum disorder are those that offer both online degree programs and classroom/campus programs. In some cases, a student may need to blend both types of learning options to earn their degree. By working with an autistic student, universities make it possible for the student to achieve their goals.

College programs for students with autistic spectrum disorder take many forms. Support programs designed to assist autistic students are becoming popular additions at many universities. Effective college programs for students with autism offer resources they can use to help them feel more comfortable in their surroundings. Model programs like Rochester Institute of Technology’s Spectrum Support Program and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Mosaic are designed to put the student back in control of both themselves as well as their environment.

What are the Best College Grants for Students with Autism?

College grants for students with autism can be found in a number of places. Organizations that work to research autism and the related autism spectrum disorders offer both grants and scholarships to students who have been diagnosed and are ready to move forward with their education. In many situations, the student’s medical care can limit their ability to pursue secondary education. By researching potential grants and scholarships, students with autism can find the funding they need to continue their education and earn their degrees.

Many of the grant and scholarship programs offered for students with autism and other learning disabilities are multi-year awards. Most scholarships are a one-time award which means the entire award is given at one time. Multi-year awards are divided up and provided to the student in a designated amount each year. For example, if a student is awarded $10,000, they will receive $2,500 every year for four years. This is beneficial for students with disabilities because it eliminates the stress and frustration of re-applying every year. Schools with college programs for autistic students often include scholarships or some type of assistance to help the student get the education they want to pursue their careers.

What Are the College Programs for Autistic students?

Colleges with programs for students with autism often have what are known as “support” programs. In addition to helping students with things like social skills, academics, and transitioning to a more independent lifestyle, the support programs also provide financial assistance. Depending on the school in question and the financial need of the students, awards can range from $1,000 to $5,000 a semester. These support programs receive funding from organizations that work with students with learning disabilities or special needs. Donations also come from outside sources.

Colleges with programs for autistic students work hand in hand with each student to make sure their needs are being met and they are able to complete their studies on time. Individuals who work as part of the support team make themselves available to the students at all times in case of an emergency or if the student needs assistance in some way. With the help of college support programs, students with autism and other autistic spectrum disorders can achieve their goals, earn their degrees, and make their way into the career of their choice.

Related:

Best Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities

Scholarships for Students on the Autism Spectrum

FAQs

What type of school is best for high functioning autism? ›

Private schools may offer small classes, individualized attention, and terrific resources. This may be a good option for an autistic student who is extremely high functioning and socially competent. However, most private schools will not make any special accommodations for students.

How do universities support autistic students? ›

College and universities can sometimes arrange additional support and adjustments for autistic students, eg individual note-taking, mentoring or study skills support with a specialist tutor.

Can a child with autism go to university? ›

Over the last five years, there has been a 200% increase in university students on the autism spectrum. With the right planning and support, autistic students can excel at uni - and that starts with choosing a university and course that's right for you.

What is the best state to live in for autism services? ›

Best States for Raising a Child with Autism:

Colorado. Massachusetts. New Jersey. Connecticut.

What kind of accommodations should I ask for college autism? ›

Possible accommodations for students on the autism spectrum include allowing for short breaks to leave class and/or allowing the student to have a “social buffering” object which might include a computer, book or other object that initially might seem distracting or “out of place”.

What benefits can autistic adults get? ›

Benefits you can get Advice & Support for:
  • Disability benefits (Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment)
  • Benefits for people who are not working (or only doing a small amount of work)
  • Jobseeker's Allowance.
  • Employment and Support Allowance.
  • Income Support.
  • Carer's Allowance.
8 Dec 2020

How many autistic students graduate from college? ›

White, Ollendick, and Bray (2011) concluded “between 0.7 percent and 1.9 percent of college students could meet criteria” (p. 683) for ASD. However, national statistics confirm that only 38.8% of college students with Autism will graduate (Newman et al., 2011).

What happens to autistic adults after high school? ›

When special education services end after high school, autistic young adults without an intellectual disability may not qualify for more services. Difficulty getting a job or going to college means that many continue to live with their parents into adulthood.

What do autistic kids do after high school? ›

Vocational and trade school programs: Young adults with autism can have the opportunity to learn a skill or a trade, get on-the-job training, and gain work experience with the supervision and support they need.

Why is school hard for autism? ›

Social Communication

In school, social interactions are everywhere and in constant flux. Moreover, what's appropriate in the classroom may be inappropriate in the halls, gym, or playground. The social cues that tell a child when to change social behaviors are often difficult for a child with autism to pick up.

What percentage of autistic students go to college? ›

For youth with an ASD, 34.7% had attended college and 55.1% had held paid employment during the first 6 years after high school.

Does Harvard have autistic students? ›

She commented that she “knew there were going to be others, but did not expect there to be so many already.” Skov Jensen shared that she has “a suspicion that there are quite a few undiagnosed autistic students at Harvard.” Many neurodivergent people do well at school, even excelling in their classes — a typical ...

Should a child with autism go to normal school? ›

Public schools are required to provide free education to all American children, and most children with autism do attend public school. In some cases, a public school can provide appropriate educational and social settings for an autistic child.

Is autism considered a disability for SSI? ›

Conditions like autism are recognized by the Social Security Administration (SSA) as potentially disabling and may be able to qualify you or your child for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits through one of both of the SSA's disability programs.

Is autism is a disability? ›

Autism is a neurological developmental disability with an estimated prevalence of one to two percent of the American and worldwide population. The diversity of the disability means that each person's individual experience of autism and needs for supports and services can vary widely.

Where do most autistic adults live? ›

Many adults with autism live at home or with a friend or family member. When additional support is needed, in-home services may include a companion, homemaking/housekeeping, therapy and other health services, or personal care.

What state has the most autism cases? ›

The latest report found that autism rates varied greatly throughout the United States. California had the highest incidence rate, with 1 in 26 8-year-olds receiving a diagnosis.

Is homeschool best for autism? ›

Pros of Homeschooling for Children with Autism

The learning environment has fewer distractions and fewer stressors. If a student has been dealing with bullies in school, homeschooling provides a safe haven. All aspects of education can be individualized to fit the student's needs.

How does autism affect college students? ›

These students may experience problems with communication and restricted or repetitive behaviors. Symptoms and severity can vary widely. College can present difficulties for students with autism. Learners' limited interpersonal communication skills and courses' complex demands can lead to frustration.

What are typical challenges and accommodations for students with autism spectrum disorder? ›

planning and practicing of communication strategies and social routines. earplugs or noise-canceling headsets in hallways or lunchroom. a quiet area where the student can take a time-out if necessary. visual schedules and graphic organizers.

What would you experience as a college student with ASD? ›

Some common characteristics of students with ASD present additional challenges in their transition to college. For example, social impairments, communication difficulties, and repetitive behaviors [3] may lead to academic, social, and daily living challenges as they transition to college.

How much does a child with autism get from SSI? ›

So, how much is a disability check for autism? There isn't a simple answer to this question because every child and their parents will be treated as an individual case, and this will impact how much they receive each month. Currently, the full benefit amount is $841 a month.

What is a Level 1 autistic? ›

Level 1 – Level 1 is the mildest level of ASD. Generally, children at this level have mild symptoms that don't significantly impact school experience or relationships with others. This is what most people previously referred to when they used the terms “Asperger's syndrome” or “high-functioning autism”.

Can you drive if you have autism? ›

Is it legal for autistic people to drive? Yes, it's legal for autistic people to drive. Autistic individuals must pass the same requirements needed to obtain a driver's license in their state as those who are not on the spectrum.

What is a highly functioning autistic? ›

“High-functioning autism” isn't an official medical term or diagnosis. It's an informal one some people use when they talk about people with an autism spectrum disorder who can speak, read, write, and handle basic life skills like eating and getting dressed.

What is mildly autistic? ›

Characteristics of Mild Autism

Repetitive or fixated behaviors, interests, or activities: Autistic people often repeat movements or words as a way to self-regulate, a behavior often referred to as “stimming.” They may also adhere to specific routines and have specific and intense interests.

What famous people are on the spectrum? ›

Famous People with Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Dan Aykroyd - Actor and Film Writer. ...
  • Albert Einstein - Scientist & Mathematician. ...
  • Daryl Hannah - Actress & Environmental Activist. ...
  • Anthony Hopkins - Actor. ...
  • Heather Kuzmich - Reality TV Contestant & Model. ...
  • Tim Burton – Movie Director. ...
  • Henry Cavendish – Scientist.
14 Jul 2021

What parts of the body does autism affect? ›

Autism affects parts of the brain that control emotions, communication, and body movements. By the toddler years, some children with ASDs have unusually large heads and brains -- which may be because of problems with brain growth.

How long do people with autism live? ›

One of the most important investigations of recent years revealed that average life expectancy of a person with severe autism is 39.5 years, rising to only 58 years for those with high-functioning autism, or Asperger syndrome.

Can a person with autism live alone? ›

The simple answer to this question is yes, a person with autism spectrum disorder can live independently as an adult. However, not all individuals achieve the same level of independence.

How can I help my high functioning autistic teenager? ›

Keep doing the things that work.
  1. Be patient. ...
  2. Kids still need structure, downtime, soothing activities, and preparation for transitions.
  3. Go with the flow of your child's nature. ...
  4. Have realistic, modest goals for what the teen or the family can accomplish in a given time period. ...
  5. Communication.

Can Aspergers go to college? ›

Support to enter higher education

Students with Asperger syndrome will often need more support or preparation than other people before entering university. They may need to be offered the chance to visit the university outside term-time to familiarize themselves before it is filled with people.

What can I claim if my child has ASD? ›

Benefits for autistic children
  • Disability Living Allowance. ...
  • Carer's Allowance. ...
  • Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit. ...
  • Housing Benefit and help with Council Tax or Rates. ...
  • Income Support. ...
  • Universal Credit. ...
  • Challenging benefit decisions. ...
  • More information.
14 Dec 2020

What is the difference between autism and special child? ›

When it comes to other developmental disabilities and special needs, a person's cognitive abilities are usually consistent, and many disabilities are correlated with low cognitive skills. With autism, a person's cognitive skills can be uneven.

What educational barriers might a student on the autism spectrum face? ›

There are a number of barriers to providing better and appropriate support to meet the educational needs of students with autism. These include: funding, lack of knowledge and training, lack of specialist support staff and time, lack of appropriate resourcing and class sizes.

Can my autistic child go to college? ›

Although some individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have cognitive impairments that would preclude college attendance, many students with high-functioning Autism (HFA) do well in an academic environment, particularly if they have the opportunity to focus on areas of personal interest.

Is autism hereditary? ›

ASD has a tendency to run in families, but the inheritance pattern is usually unknown. People with gene changes associated with ASD generally inherit an increased risk of developing the condition, rather than the condition itself.

Can I join the military with autism? ›

According to the U.S. Air Force Medical Standards Directory, Autism Spectrum Disorder is not disqualifying for continued military service unless it is currently--or has a history of--compromising military duty or training.

What type of school is best for high functioning autism? ›

Private schools may offer small classes, individualized attention, and terrific resources. This may be a good option for an autistic student who is extremely high functioning and socially competent. However, most private schools will not make any special accommodations for students.

What kind of accommodations should I ask for college autism? ›

Possible accommodations for students on the autism spectrum include allowing for short breaks to leave class and/or allowing the student to have a “social buffering” object which might include a computer, book or other object that initially might seem distracting or “out of place”.

What are the best universities for autistic adults? ›

Because every student with autism requires something different from their eventual college and that college's support systems, our list is organized by alphabetical order.
  • University of Michigan. ...
  • University of Montana. ...
  • University of West Florida. ...
  • Utah State University. ...
  • Western Kentucky University. ...
  • Western Michigan University.

Does Stanford accept autistic students? ›

Stanford University is committed to ensuring that its facilities and programs are accessible to all individuals with disabilities. Below are university departments and resources that support accessibility and inclusion for students with disabilities.

Is autism a Neurodivergent? ›

Some of the conditions that are most common among those who describe themselves as neurodivergent include: Autism spectrum disorder (this includes what was once known as Asperger's syndrome). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Down syndrome.

How can universities support students with disabilities? ›

There are many things universities can do to help students with disabilities, including:
  • offering course materials in Braille and other accessible formats.
  • making sure buildings and facilities are accessible.
  • encouraging flexible teaching methods.
  • giving support during exams.
  • allowing additional time to complete courses.

Does an Ehcp help at university? ›

If you have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), this will no longer apply when you go to university. It can, however, be a good idea to share your plan with the university you want to go to. This will help them understand your needs and make sure the right reasonable adjustments are put into place.

How many autistic people go to university UK? ›

2.4% of the UK student population are diagnosed with autism, and less than 40% of these people complete their university education2 – meaning that they are 10 times more likely to drop out (60% vs 6.3% overall dropout rate3).

How do you study with autism? ›

10 Tips to Help You Stay Focused: For Students with Autism and Learning Differences
  1. Eat something. To stay focused you need to avoid feeling those hunger pangs that may distract you from the task at hand. ...
  2. Unplug. ...
  3. Have a Mantra. ...
  4. Use Timers. ...
  5. Stress Ball or Other Fidget. ...
  6. Seeing is Believing. ...
  7. Get Inspired. ...
  8. What to Do?

How much do you get for DSA? ›

2021 to 2022 academic year

Full-time and part-time undergraduate or postgraduate students can get up to £25,000 a year for support. Eligible disabilities could include a: long-term health condition. mental health condition.

Do colleges look at disabilities? ›

Some colleges have an open admissions policy. The admission committees at each college look at everything about a student and make a decision. The colleges cannot deny you admission just because you have a disability. On the other hand, colleges will not admit you just because you have a disability.

Can a college refuse a child with Ehcp? ›

The only reason the local authority can refuse the request is if: The setting is unsuitable for the age, ability, aptitude or special educational needs (“SEN”) of the child or young person; or. The attendance of the child or young person would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for others; or.

At what age does an Ehcp end? ›

How long does an EHCP last for? An EHCP can last from its issue until your child leaves education or until 25.

Can my 14 year old go to college instead of school? ›

"Colleges sometimes admit children aged 14 or 15 who are being electively home educated, to take courses on an infill basis by arrangement with the local authority or with the parents/carers.

How does autism affect studying? ›

Students with autism might find it difficult to focus on information that is outside their range of interest, especially if it is concerning an academic topic. The focus tends to wane surrounding topics and activities that do not interest students with autism, probably more quickly than the average student.

What percentage of autistic students go to college? ›

For youth with an ASD, 34.7% had attended college and 55.1% had held paid employment during the first 6 years after high school.

Can you study medicine if you have autism? ›

While many are practising successfully, autistic doctors commonly experience personal and professional difficulties. Change of career or early retirement is common, yet with specific support many of these difficulties are remediable, and timely support would lead to increased retention of highly skilled colleagues.

What happens to autistic adults after high school? ›

When special education services end after high school, autistic young adults without an intellectual disability may not qualify for more services. Difficulty getting a job or going to college means that many continue to live with their parents into adulthood.

What do autistic kids do after high school? ›

Vocational and trade school programs: Young adults with autism can have the opportunity to learn a skill or a trade, get on-the-job training, and gain work experience with the supervision and support they need.

What is high-functioning autistic? ›

“High-functioning autism” isn't an official medical term or diagnosis. It's an informal one some people use when they talk about people with an autism spectrum disorder who can speak, read, write, and handle basic life skills like eating and getting dressed.

Videos

1. Being autistic in mainstream education | Becky Cox | TEDxYouth@StPeterPort
(TEDx Talks)
2. AUTISM AT COLLEGE
(Autistic Allie)
3. Autism Spectrum Disorder: 10 things you should know
(Telethon Kids Institute)
4. The College Program For Students on The Autism Spectrum
(katie ramage)
5. Autism And University HACKS (10 TOP TIPS YOU NEED)
(The Aspie World)
6. College "tricks" essential for those with Aspergers
(Aspergers101)

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