Autism and College – Can it Work?

What can you do if your college- age or soon to be college-age child has autism and there are thoughts and ideas that college would be an appropriate next step?A decade ago, there would be few answers and little hope regarding that question.  Today, however, this isn’t the case. 

Currently, there are numerous programs at colleges throughout the country that help individuals with autism enroll in college, navigate through classes, homework and more, and get the best grades possible.  These programs have helped many individuals with autism move forward in socialization, learning and life.   

For example, a group called Achieving in Higher Education With Autism/Developmental Disabilities (AHEADD) helps students struggling with autism and trying to get – and keep – their grade points up. 

At Community College at Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, one student who has Asperger’s Syndrome had a grade point average of 1.5.  He knew he could do better than that, but at college level, did not feel comfortable with his parents intervening.  He found AHEADD, and by working with the organization, he was able to raise his grade point average from that 1.5 to 3.6. 

Many college students with autism or Asperger’s have a difficult time navigating college life, keeping track of assignments, being away from home.  They must become their own advocates, which is quite a change for them and sometimes a huge surprise and change for their families.  In the long run, however, it helps all involved to grow. 

If you have a child with autism or Asperger’s who is considering college, it is a good idea to check with colleges well in advance and determine whether they have a counselor and/or department that has experience with individuals with autism.  Also, determine whether your child is ready to be away from home, and, if so, how much help and support they will need.  Meet with the staff.  Find out if there are adequate psychological and psychiatric services.  Check to see if there is an organization such as AHEADD that deals specifically with college students who have autism or Asperger’s. 

Once you have determined these things, help your child to the extent that he or she wants your help, especially in directing them to a field of study that they have an interest in. 

Now, more than ever before, it is easier for individuals with autism or Asperger’s to attend college and there is more support for the individuals and their families. The main thing it takes is some encouragement, some hope, some research and some support.  You can find those things through the community and in your family, and they will lead you and your child beyond your wildest dreams.

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