What is autism spectrum disorder? Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), commonly known as autism, is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. A diagnosis of autism does not reflect a person’s cognitive ability. The learning and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD span a broad range, from gifted to severely challenged. Individuals with autism may display a great attention to detail and a desire to engage in repetitive tasks, as well as have difficulty processing everyday sensory information. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives, and others need less.
Who is affected? The number of children and teenagers diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder has increased in the past decade. About one in 54 children born in the U.S. is diagnosed with ASD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but is about four times more common among boys than among girls.
Can an individual with autism attend college? Individuals on the autism spectrum have a wide range of cognitive abilities. Many participate in general education, attend advanced and honors courses in high school, and have a strong interest in pursuing a college degree. Yet, there are also many examples of students who, despite having the cognitive ability and desire to succeed in college, struggle with the complexities of the college experience, and later, with the transition to the workforce.
What are some of the obstacles? The transition from high school to college is one of life’s biggest challenges. Learning how to live independently in a dorm or apartment while also managing homework, meals, scheduling, and social interactions is stressful for any college freshman, but can be utterly overwhelming and sometimes debilitating for a student with autism. Most college students on the spectrum have “invisible” struggles, making it difficult for those around them, including professors and peers, to understand or interpret their differences and needs. All of this can lead to a frustrating, scary, and isolating experience that may become almost impossible to manage all alone.
Are there support services available to help college students with ASD? There is a marked drop-off in the services available after high school graduation, sometimes referred to as the “services cliff.” This means people with autism are facing the transition from childhood to adulthood with fewer supports than they had through most of their schooling. For many students, these supports are the only way they can attend college. Even though there has been a spike in the number of people diagnosed with autism, few colleges and universities have support programs in place to address the growing need.
What is AU doing to help fill the void? Aurora University understands that college is not a stand-alone experience for students, and that it is accompanied by two major transitions — the move from high school to college and the shift from college into the workplace. The new autism initiative at AU offers lengthy and extensive plans to bridge these transitions. Going well beyond providing a menu of support services, AU will offer structured enrichment and support in the key areas of academics, executive functioning, social interactions, and independent living, as students make their way through one of AU’s undergraduate degree programs and discover their pathway to fulfillment and success.