College Bound with Autism? How to Access the Resources You Need to Succeed
Heading to college as a student with Autism is full of hidden challenges, but you don’t have to navigate them alone. As a university student, you have access to a number of resources to help you make the most of your higher education. However, while public schools provide structured support for students with special educational needs, in college, students have to self-advocate for the resources and accommodations they need.
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Transition Planning for High School Students with Autism
Formal educational support stops when you graduate high school, but before you leave your Individualized Education Plan (IEP) behind, you’ll take part in transition planning. A required part of any IEP, transition planning outlines the academic, social, and extracurricular goals you hope to achieve in post-secondary life and applies steps and deadlines to help you achieve them.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that transition planning begins the year a student turns 16, but some schools start the process even earlier. This gives students ample time to work on the skills they need to succeed after high school. Taking an active role in transition planning will help you get the most out of it.
Set Yourself Up for Success at Home
Although high school certainly requires a lot of hard work, there’s nothing quite like the pressure that college can put on students. This is especially true for individuals with autism. One way to stay on top of your classwork is to create a space where you focus on your work without distractions competing for your attention.
If you’re living with your parents during college, see if it’s possible to renovate your room for your college experience. Perhaps you need new furniture, or you’d like to liven the space with a fresh coat of paint on the walls. Whatever you decide, make sure that this area is comfortable, relaxing, and designed to help you find success during college.
As an added bonus, the changes you and your parents make to this space can also potentially improve the value of the home. So, make sure you track expenses and take photos that showcase the room before and after the work has been completed.
Accessing the Office of Disability Services
Colleges aren’t held to the same laws as public schools, which means you’ll find fewer formal special education services at university than in K-12. Colleges do, however, make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, such as autism, so that everyone can access and participate in their education fully.
Your college’s Office of Disability Services is your primary resource for accessing disability services and requesting accommodations. The programs and services offered by the ODS vary from school to school, so you may want to research the available disability services before making your college choice.
Some of the services and accommodations you may find through ODS include:
- Priority class registration.
- Testing accommodations, including extra time and/or accessible testing locations.
- Seating accommodations.
- Note-taking services and/or lecture recordings.
- Alternative format materials, such as audiobooks and large print texts.
- Assistive and adaptive technology loans.
College students with Autism can benefit from assistive and adaptive technologies in particular. Assistive technology may include adaptive hardware and software, audiobooks, textbook scanning, audio recorders, and smartpens. In many cases, students can rent out assistive technologies for the semester and receive individualized training on their use. If you’re not sure which assistive technologies are best suited to your needs, ODS can provide recommendations; however, you may find it helpful to research assistive technology options for people with Autism on your own so you enter the conversation fully informed and prepared to self-advocate.
Since your disability status is confidential, ODS won’t release information about your disability or accommodations to professors. While you can receive assistive technology directly from ODS, in order to receive accommodations in your courses, you’ll need to request a letter from ODS detailing the accommodations you’re entitled to. It’s up to you whether you share more information regarding your autism with instructors and other university staff, but some students and professors find it helpful.
Don’t wait to register with disability services. Many universities allow you to begin the disability registration process over the summer so that accommodations are in place as soon as classes begin. Keep in mind you’ll be required to submit documents related to your autism diagnosis. Collect your paperwork ahead of time so you’re prepared.
Since every student on the Autism spectrum is unique, new college students can’t expect their school or professors to intuitively know what they need to excel academically. Rather, it’s up to college students to self-advocate and access the resources needed for postsecondary success. While the switch from an IEP to a relatively unstructured college environment has its challenges, with the right supports you can overcome barriers and achieve your educational goals.
Check out Autism Parenting Magazine for other great resources and tips, such as this article on why to use the TEACCH method with ASD Children.