Students With Autism in the College Classroom

What is Autism?

– Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a neurological disorder that was first described by Hans Asperger in 1944.
– Individuals with ASD tend to have both communication and social challenges, and an abnormal focus on a specific topic or interest (Gobbo, & Shmulsky, 2012). Some individuals with ASD are non-verbal and engage in stereotypic, repetitive behaviors while others are very high functioning and are more commonly found on college campuses (Attwood, 2007).
– It is estimated that students with a diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum comprise anywhere from 0.7 percent to 1.9 percent of the college population with an 80% incompletion rate (VanBergeijk, Klin, & Volkmar, 2008).

What will I notice from my students with ASD?

– Individuals with high-functioning Autism can bring a number of very positive attributes to the college classroom (Delrieu, n.d.). They often are found to speak in a formal or pedantic manner and tend toward verbosity. You may also notice that they appear to have a limited ability to engage in reciprocal conversations and may become immersed in one topic at a time (Wenzel & Rowley, 2010).
– One major characteristic is a limited Theory of Mind (ToM) ability. ToM gives use the ability to recognize and understand the thoughts, intentions, beliefs and desires of others. Since this is often limited in those with ASD, you might notice that they have difficulties understanding body language, sarcasm, and understanding another’s point of view or opinions (Dillon, 2007). This might make it difficult for these students to engage in imaginative or emotional focused discussions.
– Another aspect that may be hindered is their Executive Functioning, which enables an individual to plan, control impulses, understand abstract concepts, and manage time (Attwood, 2007). This may be reflected in late assignments or work turned in before completion.

Providing students with ASD support.

– Atwood (2007) suggest a number of tips for supporting students with ASD including making directions clear and providing step by step instructions in written format; asking students to repeat instructions to verify comprehension; allowing for student to have short breaks if necessary; allowing delivery of assignments in different formats such as electronically; extending deadlines; time management, and processing; providing students with the option to work in a group or independently if they feel uncomfortable in a group work setting; providing visual supports to promote understanding.
– Additionally, the Disability Services Office (DSO) at NC State University can help the student develop accommodations that fit their specific needs. Make sure your student’s know about DSO and all of the services that we offer.
– Get acquainted with the DSO website, where you will find step-by-step instructions on how students apply for accommodations. It may be helpful to show a student these resources which may in-turn empower them to seek out the help they deserve.