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. 40% of the institutions surveyed (230 colleges), participated in the survey.
The survey was designed around the Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with Asperger’s Disorder (Ellison, Clark, Cunningham, & Hansen, 2012), a checklist of efforts determined by experts as integral to effective college supports for this student population.
The 2012 study by Ellison et al. 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, and that 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 (less than 8% of survey participants) 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. Only14 institutions (7.4%), reported dedicated, identified staff in place to mentor students with Asperger’s Disorder in needs related to academic organization.
Results 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 a pre-interview of institutions being 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 Ellison, 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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