College Students with Aspergers Give Their Experienced Advice: Part 3

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.

College Students

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?

Tips for the Transition Back to College for ASD Students

Students across the country are making the trek back to campus within the next few weeks, as winter break comes to an end. As students pack their belongings and plan their travel back to college, each is thinking about the new semester: “What will the new professors be like?” “Can I handle the workload?” “What should I pack for campus, and what should I leave at home?”

Several years ago, at the Penn State National Autism Conference, I met and befriended Caitlin Baran. Caitlin earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania and a Master’s degree in psychology from Shippensburg. Caitlin also was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1997. Considering her extensive experience in the area of “transition to college,” I once asked her to provide some tips on the topic of returning to school after an extended break. Caitlin’s advice follows.

Support For Off-Campus Travel for College Students with ASD

Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Welcome to the holiday season! The season is one of change, for a variety of reasons. The arrival of the holidays announces the coming of cooler weather for most of the U.S., begins a time of travel, and signals the end of the calendar year. The holidays are a time of change for college students, too. Most students who have been living full-time on campus since summer will be traveling back and forth between home and their dorms multiple times within a few short weeks.

Support For OffCampus TravelOff-campus travel can be complicated. Travel by rail can be rife with delays. Bus travel can be time consuming. And those traveling by air frequently encounter challenges due to cancelled flights and the navigation of multiple airports.

The Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (2012) is an assessment tool with which to determine the readiness of specific institutions of higher learning to support the academic, social, and independent living needs of students living within the autism spectrum.

College with Asperger’s: 7 Benchmarks for Effective Support on Campus

The 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.

College Students with Asperger’s: Academic and Campus Accommodations Necessary

A large body of literature describes the significant, life-long difficulties faced by many individuals diagnosed with ASD. The support needed for college students diagnosed with more traditional disabilities are well documented. However, information is lacking in regard to effectively supporting the college instruction of students with Asperger’s Disorder and how to support their navigation of a campus society.

10 Steps for ASD College Students to Make the Most of Student Activities

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.

College, students, activities, organizations

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:

Building a Community for College Success

An Asperger Student's Personal Experience

Each summer the West Virginia Autism Training Center, located at Marshall University, conducts a college experience for rising high school seniors interested in learning about the college lifestyle. Students take a typical class, live in dorms, participate in skills groups, and attend study halls.

And in between all that, they try to have some fun.

Significant to the experience is the building of “community” – in both the physical and social sense of the word – in which students can feel safe and connected to others. The college support program strives to create an experience where students can recognize and realize their potential.

The Importance of Follow-Up With Your Professors in College

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.

Teacher with students in classroom

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.

Communicating Strengths and Needs in College

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.

Using Choice to Increase Academic Success

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 this could look.

Template to Support College Writing Assignments for Students with Aspergers

Many college students with Asperger’s need assistance with writing assignments. Whether it is for a writing intensive course or for an essay in a basic undergraduate class, the following often occurs:

Student doing the notes

  1. Students write too little. Students often presume professors will infer from their most basic of communications what the student intends and, as a result, leave out details.
    • These details, of course, are what professors want to read.
  1. Students write too much. Students are sometimes uncertain what professors want to read and end up throwing everything – including the kitchen sink – into the document. This especially happens when students are writing about a topic that has personal interest to them.
  1. Students with Asperger’s Disorder sometimes cannot predict what professors want to read in a writing assignment. This creates difficulties with emotional regulation, during which students may avoid the assignment or have an emotional meltdown.

Students can more easily complete writing assignments when provided clear instructions about the structure of an assignment and relevant examples. A template is often helpful. The following is such a template, used to help a student assigned with writing a paper for a History class.

Please note: The examples provided were not related to the assignment. They were merely examples.

College by Way of Small Steps

Going to college with Asperger’s Syndrome may seem like an insurmountable obstacle, but believe me when I say that it really isn’t that difficult.

Sam-Allen

You don’t need to immediately hop right into a prestigious Ivy League college and shell out a fortune just as you’re starting your college life. Starting off college is easily achievable by finding a community college in your local area.