One of the most challenging aspects of supporting college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder is the need for follow-up with professors, college staff, and others to ensure deadlines are met and that assignments are turned in according to each syllabus. The fast pace of college, combined with the severe anxiety and executive dysfunction common to the spectrum, create the perfect conditions for students with ASD to forget deadlines or avoid high pressure academic or social situations on campus.
I’ve known dozens of students with ASD who promised: “I will work on my speech for Communications class this evening after dinner.” And they mean it sincerely when they say it. Stress and commitments mount as the day moves forward, however, and by dinner time students who made the promise may feel overwhelmed and over-stimulated and avoid the assignment. Some may become focused so intensely on another subject or topic that they forget about working on their speech.
It’s easy to presume that students who miss deadlines or forget to turn in assignments are simply immature, disinterested, or unfocused. Many educators say “If he would just try harder he’d be just fine.” Some students who fit this profile are labeled “not college material,” as a result, and find their on-campus reputations compromised.
Part of the frustration that education and support personnel experience in this scenario comes from their lack of understanding about the autism spectrum. They recognize the sincerity of the student when he said: “I’ll work on my speech after dinner.” They believe the student really meant his promise, and expect that he will follow through. Many educators and support staff do not understand, however, that symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorders – most specifically disorganization and high anxiety levels that result from executive dysfunction – may prevent the student from following through on his promise.
We at Marshall University recognize that our follow-up with professors is one of the most important supports we provide. As we work closely with students to complete and turn in assignments, we follow-up each week with each professor to ensure assignments are turned in and that deadlines are met. Professors (on our campus, at least) appreciate that follow-up, and recognize how that follow-up affects the outcomes for students. They appreciate the effort.
I bet they would on your campus, too.
By Marc Ellison
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