Many Colleges are Seeing a Rise in Enrollment for Autistic Students

Increasing numbers of autistic teens and adults are pursuing higher education, so it is essential for universities to implement programs that accommodate their specific needs.
(photo: momlogic.com)

According to the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, there has been a significant increase in the number of young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) attending college. The number may even be larger than one would expect, as many students may choose not to reveal they have a disorder. Jane Brown Thierfeld, Ed. D., co-director of College Autism Spectrum, which is dedicated to assisting students with ASD, states, “For every student receiving special services, there are 1-2 on that same campus who have not identified themselves to anyone.” With enrollment reaching large numbers, many colleges are creating programs that help autistic individuals transition into the college setting, as well as prepare them for future employment.

With the number of children on the autism spectrum rising exponentially in the last decade, more colleges are beginning to see the importance of implementing programs that will accommodate autistic teens and adults that want to achieve higher education. Many colleges have established programs that focus on autistic individuals being able to receive the tutoring they need, as well as workshops that focus on social skills, as well as ways to lower anxiety and make the individual more comfortable. On average, these programs cost an additional $3,000 on top of tuition.

One program that has seen great success is the Spectrum Support Program at Rochester Institute of Technology. The program, which attracts about 30 students each year, specializes in job preparation through a 15-week program that incorporates resume building, networking, job interviews, and confidence building. Lurie Ackles, director of the program, states, “Every program looks very different, and families need to know how much time students will spend with program staff.” She continues, “It’s equally important to know what a program is not going to do.” For example, this program focuses on high-functioning adults, so the program may not be a good fit for those who require additional help in many other areas.

Another example of a university providing opportunities for those on the spectrum is the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM). This program consists of a Living Learning Enviornment, which houses 25 students on the spectrum, along with a mentor. The program focuses on social services, such as support groups, and outings to school events.

NovaSoutheasternUniversity in Fort Lauderdale, FL, offers a very individualized plan. Each student will have a tailored plan based on the support they need in the areas they require help in the most. The program will incorporate 10 hours of peer mentoring each week, as well as group meetings, and physical and occupational therapy. The program also involves having each student complete volunteer or paid work experience before they graduate, therefore enabling them to gain experience in resume writing, the interview process, and being able to work as a team.

The development of these programs coincides with ICare4Autism’s Global Autism Workforce Initiatives. Universities and businesses are beginning to realize how essential it is to develop and implement programs that accommodate and empower those with autism. It is one of ICare4Autism’s missions to assist in the transition from school to the workforce, as well as collaborate with these entities to create opportunities for those on the spectrum.

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