Rights afforded by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) transfer from parents to their children when those children enter college or turn eighteen years old. As a result, parents are unable to provide the same levels of support and advocacy they provided when their child was in high school.
Because of FERPA, parents of college students are generally unable to:
talk to instructors
request information about grades
explain to instructors how their child experiences ASD
or provide information about accommodations that may be helpful to their child living on the spectrum.
While many faculty and staff fear the hovering of the stereotypical “helicopter parent,” college support staff who truly understand how best to serve students with ASD recognize the value that parents bring to a student’s community of support.
In general, parents of students with ASD have “been there and done that,” in regard to education. Many parents can provide advice about the most subtle of modifications that, when implemented, may help their child be successful in a college classroom. College support staff would be wise to consider how to effectively integrate parents into the support programs of college students with ASD.
Examples of how that can be accomplished without violating the rights of the student include:
Help student express the limits of, and exceptions to, the reciprocal exchange of information with parents.
Support staff at Marshall University recognize and appreciate the rights of adult students, and honor each request made to keep educational information private. However, prior to developing support strategies we discuss with each student the value of allowing a parent to participate in their support, and the importance of sharing information that will enhance that support.
Should the student allow some information to be shared and insist other information remain private, staff document that request and ensure all members of the team understand and adhere to the request.
Create formal events that promote community building with parents.
Each October, parents of college students supported by the WV Autism Training Center travel from across the country to attend Parents’ Weekend at Marshall University. The event typically occurs during Homecoming Weekend, promoting further the concepts of fellowship and friendship. Staff work carefully to ensure the 150 – plus participants feel part of a large, intimate community focused on the same goal.
Writing a requested accommodations letter to your professors
Whether or not a student should formally disclose an autism spectrum disorder to disability support staff at a college or university is a personal decision one should make after thoughtful consideration. It is my opinion, however, that students have the potential for a better college experience when they provide faculty with information that improves the ability of the instructor to communicate with the student and accommodate his or her academic and social needs.
We at Marshall University have found that providing professors with information and examples about preferred instruction styles can help facilitate a successful classroom experience.
Your school might have disability services in place that offer facilitation between professors and students to help fit their accommodations. Oftentimes these services take the form of a letter written to the instructor that explains the student’s necessary accommodations for the class, which the professor must adhere to.
Look to see if your campus offers such services, and set up an appointment with a disability services representative to discuss your options. If your school does not offer services such as these, you can create this letter yourself.
Here is one example of how a letter to your professors could look.
Aspergers101 presents: Dr. Temple Grandin Tips for Interviewing Success
Statistically, 75% of persons diagnosed with High Functioning Autism / Asperger Syndrome are either under or unemployed. This is a travesty for them, their families, society and businesses. These staggering numbers cannot be ignored! There are various reasons for unemployment mainly the challenges that come with autism such as sensory sensitivities and workplace social expectations.
However, alongside challenges, there are many positive traits such as:
Ability to focus intensely for long periods
Enhanced learning ability
Deep knowledge of an obscure or difficult subject resulting in success scholastically and professionally when channeled.
Honest & hard workers who make for excellent employees when painstaking & methodical analysis are required.
Aspergers101 is proud to offer our readers suggested ways to overcome employment challenges, specifically the interview process. Dr. Temple Grandin is known worldwide for her successes with invention but in order to get to that plateau, she had to self test ways to get her foot in the employment door. As a person diagnosed with Autism, Temple share those personal techniques and interview skills below.
Don’t go into an interview cold turkey…prepare a well thought out presentation!
Neatly show your work, presentations, articles, etc.
As most teens and adults with Asperger syndrome know, people with Asperger syndrome can be significantly depressed. The rates of diagnoses of depression vary among studies, from 18% to 22%. The most commonly quoted rate of a depression in the general population of the US is 6.7%. Most of the research shows both genders have these high rates of depression.
Studies focused on males and females and not those who are transgender. There are more people who identify as transgender in the AS population than in the general population and transgender people have a higher rate of depression. One would guess that someone who is both AS and transgender might have a high tendency towards depression.
Interestingly, non-autistic full siblings and half-siblings of individuals with ASD (not just Asperger syndrome) also had higher rates of depression than the general population, although at half the rate of those with ASD. Studies of suicide attempts are also very troubling. In studies of suicide, the rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts are prevalent, especially in adolescence and young adulthood.
It’s critical to identify depression, since it can be treated.
It’s obviously important to understand why rates of depression and suicidal thoughts are so high. One factor, given the findings in siblings, is that there is an increased genetic vulnerability to depression, although large studies haven’t supported a common genetic overlap. We have to look to other factors to account for these high rates of depression.
It’s important to diagnose clinical depression for anyone for a simple reason – depression is treatable with a variety of modalities:
Many colleges and universities require undergraduates to live on campus, especially during their freshman and sophomore years. “Residence life” (calling on-campus living environments “dorms” is considered a faux pas in higher education these days) requires students to live as a member of a small, interactive society. To be an effective and successful member of an on-campus living environment, students are expected to understand and conform to social norms within residence halls. Students are also expected to pull their own weight both socially and in regard to independent living in their dorms.
Students diagnosed with ASD are sometimes challenged in independent living skill development.
Many require additional supports to learn these skills, and in recognizing when to use them. Colleges are not prepared to teach these skills to this population. Less than 5% of public, four-year institutions report employing staff dedicated to teaching independent living skills to college students diagnosed with ASD.
A successful residence hall experience requires one to understand and conform to understood norms and few colleges have employees available to teach those skills. It becomes clear that students with ASD must begin learning and mastering necessary skills prior to their transition into college.
To master the skills necessary for a successful residence hall experience, one must know what is expected for dorm living.
Participation in scheduled floor and resident hall activities, including scheduled floor meetings
Understand and follow residence hall rules
Interact socially with other students on your floor
Communicate effectively with roommate(s), including working through conflict
Interact with residence hall faculty and staff
Utilize academic support resources made available in residence hall settings
Continuing our occasional theme of listening to the advice of college students who have “been there and done that,” please join me in listening to recommendations provided by four graduates of Marshall University. Bradley, Nathan, Stephen, and Brian, each 2013 graduates of the university, responded to questions about personal goals, their experience with support programs, what they liked about campus, etc. But it is the final question I’d like to focus on for this essay.
What advice would you give the freshman “you,” if you could talk with your younger self prior to entering college?
Bradley reports he would advise himself to become familiar with, and stay current with, academic material in classes. Bradley suggests that academic success hinges on staying current with classroom assignments and learning.
Nathan says he recognized early the need to take time necessary to adjust to living on-campus. He says if given the opportunity, he would tell his younger self to “keep doing what you are doing,” and take a slow and steady pace that will lead to an effective adjustment.
Stephen would advise his freshman self to procrastinate less, and “start working on a capstone sooner,” rather than wait until the end of his senior year.
Brian states he would encourage his younger self to self-reflect on his educational path, and ensure it connects well with future professional goals. Brian recommends this self-reflection especially because financial and other resources may be limited while in college.
Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has risen significantly since first described in the 1940s. The Center for Disease Control estimates currently 1 in 68 children in the United States lives with an ASD diagnosis, and that 46% of those diagnosed have average to above average intelligence.
A large body of literature describes the significant, life-long difficulties faced by many individuals diagnosed with ASD. The support needs for college students diagnosed with more traditional disabilities are well documented.
There is a lack of information, however, in regard to effectively supporting the college instruction of students with Asperger’s Disorder, and how to support their navigation of a campus society.
Ellison, Clark, Cunningham, and Hansen (2013) explored the phenomenon of providing effective supports to college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder. Investigators convened a panel of experts to provide input on the topic, and then categorized common themes identified by panel members. Their research was published in the peer-reviewed Southern Regional Council on Educational Administration Yearbook 2013.
When people think of student activities for Aspergers students, especially those in college, some may feel tempted to believe that such activities are not suitable for them. Students with Aspergers could feel hindered by a number of issues, whether it be social anxiety, time management, lack of awareness, or longer study sessions due to slower information processing, to name a few.
The ASD student and/or those around them too often assume that such issues would prevent them from getting anything out of an activity. Consequently, this commonly held false assumption only makes it so that the Asperger’s student likely does not develop the inclination to do much beyond their comfort zones.
I suggest 10 steps that can help the ASD college student get beyond this:
Take inventory of organizations in which you could get involved.
Ask a residence hall worker or go to the activities office and get a list of potential organizations and begin research
Go to events, such as student activities nights, whose purpose is to expose students or the public to organizations or look on website if there is one
Explore the organizations online and then engage with them (ideal for introverts).
Usually, word of mouth and stories from current friends/acquaintances establishes links and piques interests of those with ASD, despite any general reluctance for involvement, as well as (stereotypically) restricted interests
Do your homework: Understand the organization’s missions, visions, values, member testimonials, events, contact information.
Identify primary contacts
First priority to contact is a person in charge, or a group facilitator
Understand the steps to joining the organization
Introduce yourself or get an introduction from somebody if necessary.
Both scenarios encompass a self-introduction and this is critical because it allows others to acknowledge and accept the true personality of the Asperger’s student
At the end of the school year, many high school seniors will begin planning their final stage of transition into higher education. Students will send out an application to their “first choice college,” and then several to their “Plan B colleges.” Each will then wait anxiously to hear back from those schools about their admission. Many questions are considered by students when determining their college of first choice. Does the college have an established academic major the student wants to study? Does the campus size feel right? Is it safe? Do sufficient opportunities for social interaction exist?
Most students with ASD consider additional questions.
Many want to know if professors use the most effective strategies for teaching to their unique learning styles, and if the culture of the school truly accepts diversity. Do support services exist that help with social and independent living needs? And if so, do those services cost extra?
CollegeAutismSpectrum.com maintains a list of two-year, four-year, and on-line colleges that provide services specific to students living on the autism spectrum. (The link to that list of colleges is: http://www.collegeautismspectrum.com/collegeprograms.html) The list provides links to the websites of those college program, allowing students and their parents to explore each site in order to find answers to their questions.
I do not endorse the information contained on the webpage. In my review of the site I recognize information I know is outdated (the service fee for Marshall University’s program is no longer correct and the site does not list our university’s summer program, for example). I do, however, endorse the idea of students and their families using the list as a first-step in exploring colleges that might potentially meet their needs.
To prepare for the transition to college I suggest:
Eszter Kiss is a Provisionally Licensed Counselor employed by the West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University. Kiss presented “Adding Color to Cognitive Behavior Therapy,” at the WV Counseling Association. The presentation centered on the use of art as a tool to facilitate communication of thoughts and behavior for individuals with ASD. Specifically, Kiss uses this technique to support college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder.
The autism community has long recognized that many living with ASD can better communicate their inner experience through writing or art. For several reasons, an oral expression of their cognitions or emotions can be extremely difficult for those on the spectrum.
College students diagnosed with ASD often need a process through which to express and receive abstract information. Kiss’ presentation highlighted one such process.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is a theoretical mental health counseling process through which this tool was used. CBT should not be attempted by those without advanced training in counseling psychology, or by those without expertise in this specific approach. However, the use of art as a tool to communicate abstract thought and improve life skills can be used by parents and support staff outside a CBT process.
For example, consider the picture at the beginning of this post drawn by a student on the spectrum after Ms. Kiss asked him to provide a visual representation of “resilience.”
The picture of the knight successfully blocking the arrows being shot at him allows a support professional to discuss the following types of issues: