Is Higher Education Ready to Support Students with Asperger’s Disorder? ~ Part 1

In 2013, to fulfill the requirements of my doctoral degree, I surveyed disability service professionals at 578 degree-granting, four-year public institutions of higher education. The survey was designed to determine the current readiness of higher education to support the academic, social and communication, and independent living needs of college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder. 230 colleges participated in the survey.

The survey was designed around the Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with Asperger’s Disorder, a checklist of efforts determined by experts as integral to effective college supports for this student population.

The 2012 study demonstrated college students with Asperger’s Disorder required specialized supports, and that disability services available traditionally on campus to this population were generally ineffective. The 2013 nation-wide survey explored, in part, whether or not colleges had specialized supports for this student population outside of traditional disability services.

The first research question addressed academic supports, and asked:

“What is the current state of readiness within higher education to meet the academic needs of college students with Asperger’s Disorder as described in the Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with Asperger’s Disorder?

The areas of support investigated and the results of the survey follow:

Area of support: Basic adjustments and reasonable accommodations.

100% of the respondents reported that “access to basic adjustments and reasonable accommodations” for students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder existed currently and was available at their institution. However, the majority of respondents, (83.8%) reported this support existed only within the traditional disability service programs offered to all college students with disability. No specialized supports specific to this need were available to students with Asperger’s Disorder.

Area of support: Self-advocacy and disclosure skills.

Nearly 75% of participants reported that support for teaching self-advocacy and disclosure skills existed only within traditional disability service programs. 14 colleges reported this type of assistance did not exist at all on their campus. Only 15 colleges reported a system fully dedicated to teaching self-advocacy and disclosure skills to this student population.

Area of Support: Specialized assistance to faculty and staff.

13% of participants reported no system in place to provide specialized training to professors or college staff. The majority (71.2%) reported that specialized assistance to faculty and staff occurred only within the structure of traditional disability services. Only 4 colleges (7.3%) reported existing systems fully dedicated to providing specialized assistance about Asperger’s Disorder to college personnel.

Area of Support: Professionals to assist with academic organization and mentoring.

7.9% of those surveyed reported no identified staff existed on campus to provide this specific service. The majority (72.6%) reported this service existed only within the structure of traditional disability supports. Only 14 institutions (7.4%) reported dedicated, identified staff in place to mentor students with Asperger’s Disorder in needs related to academic organization.

The results from these studies demonstrate a significant minority of public colleges surveyed have developed the specialized supports outside of traditional disability services necessary to support the academic needs of college students with Asperger’s Disorder.

This outcome suggests that a pre-interview of institutions be considered by a high school student applying to colleges. Using, perhaps, the Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with Asperger’s Disorder as an interview tool may be beneficial in selecting a college that fits the individual student’s need.

by Dr. Marc Ellison


 Marc Ellis7108on, Ed.D. is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and an Approved Licensed  Professional  Supervisor (ALPS) who has worked nearly 30 years to provide person-    centered support, services and  advocacy to individuals who live with autism spectrum  disorders, their families and those who support  them. He has supported individuals    with ASD throughout their lifespan, as they moved to the community  from state-supported  institutions, searched for and obtained employment, entered into relationships, and    transitioned into college. Dr. Ellison is the Interim Executive Director of the West Virginia  Autism Training  Center, and a part-time professor at Marshall University.

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Jennifer Allen

After an extensive career broadcast marketing, Jennifer and her husband searched for answers when their oldest son hit the kinder years with great difficultly. After finally learning that their oldest son had Aspergers Syndrome, she left her career in television and became a full time mother to both of her sons. Jennifer elicited the participation of her sons and together they produced several independent programs including a children’s animated series titled Ameriquest Kids (now distributed by Landmark Media) as well as her documentary and book titled, Coping to Excelling: Solutions for school-age children diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism or Aspergers Syndrome. The need for more information encouraged Jennifer to elicit a team of autism experts to provide weekly, original content to a website free to anyone seeking to live their best under the diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism/Aspergers Syndrome… appropriately titled: Aspergers101.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on “Is Higher Education Ready to Support Students with Asperger’s Disorder? ~ Part 1

  1. Your article is quite timely as I am in my first year of university, in a STEM field. I’m doing well in my first year assessments in general, as there is a complete mix of types of assessment: quizzes, presentations, short answer questions, reports and essays. While essays written at home and simply handed in by a given deadline have generally been OK, I struggled with writing an essay in class under exam conditions. The only accommodations that have been suggested by the disability advisor have been extra time, but I’m not sure that helps, and I wonder what advice you have to give in such circumstances?

    Regardless of how knowledgeable I am on the subject matter (and I do tend to over-prepare in order to cope with extreme exam anxiety), it is still very difficult for me to be presented with an unseen exam question, and have to devise an argument that answers the question and come up with an essay plan on the spot, marshal my often over-detailed knowledge (my degree is in the area of my special interest) and be selective about what I include, and then handwrite an essay with no editing possible under tight time constraints. The extra time only really addresses the latter issue. In truth, I’d prefer that the reasonable accommodation made would be that I can have the question(s) in advance so I know what to expect. Do you know of any guidelines or even research studies I can use to make that suggestion?

    I’ve peeked at the course guide to see what topics we will be studying in years 2 and 3, and every exam consists of essay-type questions, unlike the mix we’ve had this year. This is making me very anxious, as I can envision getting a degree classification that doesn’t reflect my mastery of the material.

    I’ve also been on essay writing workshops but the points they cover are very basic and don’t address my very specific and detailed questions. I would like some very formulaic instructions for different types of essays, until I gain more experience at writing. The essay plan templates you find online are useless because they are too general.