Culture shock, peer pressure and deadline stresses are common pain points for any student at university but for those with autism, the struggle is much worse.
Social interactions and new experiences tend to be overwhelming and confusing for students with autism. It also compounds other common challenges that students typically face in school, from exam pressures to money worries and navigating new friendships.
According to Autism Speaks, students with autism in the United States often face a lack of professional support after high school and only one-third of adults with autism go to university within six years of finishing high school.
Luckily, universities are recognising the difficulties students with autism have and are creating specialised support programmes to help them fulfill their potential.
Here are some the best universities for students with autism in the US…
Bellvue College runs a tailored programme for students with autism that runs alongside their courses.
The Autism Spectrum Navigators initiative allows autistic students to receive extra support alongside their usual classes. The specialised programmes help students with issues that prove challenging for autistic students including time management, dealing with stress, self-esteem and interpersonal communication.
I was lucky to find the right university, have accommodations I needed (none autism related b/c no dx), and great support.
I definitely had my various struggles though. For one, I had a very difficult time fitting in with people.
It took me five years, but I got my degree.
— 🐺 Kai LoneWolf ♿ (@MaKyah) January 1, 2018
Parents are also closely involved in the students’ development in the programme helping families to move forward as a unit even when the student is no longer living at home.
All students who identify as on the autism spectrum are eligible for the classes, which can often count towards college credit.
Autistic students have a choice of two organisations to support them in different ways throughout their studies here.
The Autism Student Organisation helps connect students on the autism spectrum with each other and raises awareness about issues affecting those with autism. This can give students a sense of purpose and help them meet people who understand their disability.
Alternatively, the Autism Task Force allows students, faculty, parents and staff to meet monthly and discuss issues affecting international students. This helps students to feel more integrated into the university community and ensures the community can learn how to best support those on the spectrum.
The University of West Florida provides weekly one-on-one support for students with autism in key identified areas they struggle with.
The programme helps students with academic development, communication skills, life planning and career preparation, depending on what they personally struggle with or would like help improving with.
The trained coaches can help students develop any area they wish from note-taking, choosing accommodation to self-advocacy and networking skills.
The programme allows students with autism to benefit from the same educational opportunities as other students while receiving the added support necessary to successfully bridge the jump to adult life.
This university allows students with autism to live in a designated house with two peer mentors, meaning they have onhand support at any given time.
The mentors encourage the students to develop independent life-skills and self-confidence, helping them to adjust to adult life. This provides a safe space for students to build their self-esteem and communication skills, which are common problem areas for those with autism.
There is also specialised counselling available through the university’s disability services that helps students talk through any issues that affect them, including academic and social issues.
There are a great many people on the autistic spectrum who go/have gone to university, and many have been high academic achievers (in certain disciplines, probably more so than many neurotypicals). It's just a different – and special – programming of the brain
— Writing for Wellbeing (@write4wellbeing) April 30, 2018
Western Michigan University’s autism programme begins a week before other students head to campus, which allows the school’s autistic students get a headstart on acclimatising to university life. The university’s aim is to allow students on the autism spectrum to have the most similar university to other students as possible.
Students will receive support in the transition from high-school to college, help in academic life and support in finding part-time work alongside their studies if they desire.
Students have access to a number of services throughout the year, including organised social events, peer mentoring, and ‘Parent and Family Mixers’ to help strengthen family relationships once students move away from home.
Informational services like “Test Taking Skills” and “Dating 101” are also available for students at the university to help them develop their social and academic skills alongside their studies.