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 2013 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. It explored, in part, whether or not colleges had specialized supports for this student population outside of traditional disability services.
Research indicates a campus community well-informed about the disorder, combined with professional staff to provide independent living assistance and training to students, may be most beneficial to an effective college experience (Brockelman, Chadsey, & Loeb, 2006; Dillon, 2007; Ellison et al., 2012).The third research question, then, addressed independent living supports, and asked: “What is the current state of readiness within higher education to meet the independent living 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:
- 13 survey participants (6.6%) reported no on-campus expertise existed regarding Asperger’s Disorder
- 76 participants reported some personnel have attended workshops or trainings about the disorder. 64 colleges described personnel as having extensive experience with the disorder
- 43 participants (21.9%) reported an identified expert on the disorder existed on campus and was available to provide information and expertise
Dedicated finances and resources
Research has shown that the dedication of finances and specialized resources are integral to providing best-practice supports to college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder (Ellison, Clark, Cunningham, & Hansen, 2012).
- The majority (71.9%) of those who responded to the survey reported support programming and resources existed only within the structure of traditional disability services
- 5 participants reported dedicated finances and resources existed fully on campus
Mental health access
In their study, VanBergeijk, Klin, and Volkmar (2008) emphasized the importance of on-campus mental health services to students with Asperger’s Disorder as they navigate a complicated campus community. Participants were asked to report the current readiness of their institutions to provide mental health services, including assessment and counseling, to college students with Asperger’s Disorder.
Of those who responded to this survey item reported
- 22 participants (11.9%) no identified mental health professional existed on campus to provide service to this student population.
- More than one-half of the respondents reported mental health services existed only within the structure of traditional disability services.
- 21 participants (11.4%) reported dedicated, identified mental health staff existed on campus to fully support students with Asperger’s Disorder.
Assistance with identifying resources
185 participants reported on their ability to support students with Asperger’s Disorder to receive assistance with “identifying available on-campus and off-campus resources.”
- 10 respondents (5.4%) reported no such system existed
- 143 respondents (77.3%) reported this support exists only within the structure of traditional disability services
- 16 participants (8.6%) reported a fully dedicated system of support exists on campus
Mentoring an independent on-campus lifestyle
195 participants responded to the item that explored the readiness of higher education to provide “mentoring services that support organizational needs” that promote an independent, on-campus lifestyle. Of those who responded:
- 36 (18.5%) reported no system of mentoring existed for students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder
- The majority (61%) reported this system existed only within the structure of traditional disability services
- 14 participants (7.2%) reported fully dedicated systems were in place on campus to meet this need
Professionals to assess and teach independent living skills
Research indicates that college students with Asperger’s Disorder require dedicated professionals trained to “assess and teach independent living skills” in order to have an effective college experience. Of the 196 participants who responded to a survey item that explored this strategy:
- one-half reported no staff existed to assess areas of need or to teach independent living skills
- 77 participants (39.3%) reported staff existed only within the structure of traditional disability services
- 9 participants (4.6%) reported dedicated, identified staff existed on campus to provide this service
Professionals to assist with improving independent living skills
Participants were surveyed as to their ability to “provide assistance with learning or improving independent living skills.”
- 83 participants (44.6%) reported no staff existed from whom students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder could receive this support
- 82 participants (44.1%) reported staff existed only within the structure of traditional disability services
- 9 participants (4.8%) answered they had fully dedicated, on-campus staff available to assist students with Asperger’s Disorder in learning or improving their independent living skills
Results demonstrate a significant minority of public colleges surveyed have developed the specialized assistance outside of traditional disability services necessary to support the independent living 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 Marc Ellison Ed.D
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