Many families of children on the autism spectrum choose to homeschool. Parents are aware the high school years is the time to begin planning for a successful college transition. As the autism spectrum is wide and student needs vary, there is no one perfect college approach. Some students may be successful attending a four year college program without special support services. Others homeschoolers with autism will opt to live at home and attend community college. A third option that homeschooling families may wish to consider are the growing number of support programs housed at four year colleges.
The statistics on college success for students with autism are sobering. Research finds just one in three students with autism attends college and 80% who enroll won’t graduate. Many people with autism have average to high intelligence, so failure to graduate college can be a result of insufficient support and resources. Hoping to level the playing field and improve odds of graduation and career success families are increasingly looking at support programs houses on college campuses.
Autism Services Offered at Some Colleges Include:
- Group counseling or social skills courses
- Private dorm rooms
- Trained peer mentors (often graduate students in counseling)
- Academic support including tutoring and supervised study hours
- Access to psychological services if needed
- Social support groups or networks
- Coordination with college disability office
- Case management services
College Different than K-12
While parents may be familiar with the sorts of disabilities services typically offered in K-12, they should be aware that in colleges do not have the same obligations. Colleges are required to follow the American with Disabilities Act. The ADA focuses on providing accommodations, not on providing free supportive services. This means that colleges are not required to offer these sorts of comprehensive programs to support students with learning disabilities.
Autism Services Vary
Because these services are not legally required they are offered only at some colleges and often the cost is not included in tuition. Most typically these programs cost between two to four thousand dollars a semester. Some programs are primarily focused on the freshman year and others operate for all four years. While these programs may add significantly to the cost of college, they can make the difference between college success and failure.
College Programs For Students With Autism
Here is an overview of some of the most well known college support programs for students with autism. Eligibility guidelines vary by program. Many require a separate application and they make their admissions decisions separately from university admissions.
Marshall University: The College Support program located in West Virginia has been in existence since 2002. It provides student support in four areas: planning, academic support, social support and independent living. Prior to the student beginning college parents are involved in working with the staff and student in planning. Marshall also offers a summer college transition program for students on the spectrum. A promotional video program for the program provides more detail.
Rochester Institute of Technology: Spectrum Support Program is one of the largest programs in the country provides support to “highly capable college students on the autism spectrum.” The program utilizes trained graduate students to act as peer mentors.
St. Joseph University: The ASPIRE program located at St. Joe’s operates in conjunction with the Kinney Center for Autism in Philadelphia. Students enrolled in the program meet weekly with a staff member case manager and also work with Peer Mentors. Students have access to academic supports such as supervised study hall and social supports such as social skills training.
Texas Tech: CASE – Connections for Academic Success and Employment. Intensive support for students with autism and other developmental disabilities. Students work with a learning specialist who helps students coordinate with the disability office. Learning specialists address life concerns including friendships, self-care, communication with parents. CASE also provides career training, resume development, interview practice, and so forth. Families pay a separate fee each semester for these services.
Western Kentucky University: The CAP circle of support provides three main services: private dorm room, mentorship, and mandatory supervised studying which includes work on executive function skills like organization and study skills. This New York Times article provides a helpful overview of WKU’s program.
Farleigh Dickinson University: The COMPASS program located in New Jersey provides a variety of supports. Prior to enrollment students participate in specialized orientation programs that involve staff from various sectors of campus. During the school year students receive: two hours of individualized academic support services, one hour of group therapy, and one hour of individual therapy. Students are also matched to an peer mentor, an upperclass student who aids in social adjustment.
The University of Tennessee, Chattanooga: The MOSAIC program is a comprehensive four year program for students with autism. Students enrolled in the course will take credit bearing courses to build up skill areas including social skills, academic skills, and career readiness. Individual academic mentoring and lifecoaching are included as well as required supervised study hours.