Both children and adults with Autism typically show difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication, social interactions and leisure or play activities. Autism affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.
Experts agree on the following advice upon detection of Autism:
1. Seek immediate treatment for your child.
2. If possible, find someone to work with the child at least 20 hours a week, i.e. a therapist, teacher, parent, grandparent or someone from your church or group. Look for progress after one month.
3. Do not allow the child to sit and watch TV all day. Get them engaged and play as many games as possible that require taking turns.
4. New parents learning they have an autistic child must recognize immediately that they cannot do it all by themselves. They should immediately contact Autism societies or chapters to find resources, join support groups and talk with other families about their experiences.
5. Help the child to develop their areas of strength, particularly among high-functioning students with Asperger’s Syndrome (a neurobiological condition characterized by normal intelligence and language development with deficiencies in social and communication skills), and get them job experiences during high school.
Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia is one of the College Selection Process in that has a special program in their Autism Training Center, which works with Autism spectrum disorders like Aspergers. Although many colleges have counselors and staff familiar with Autism, only Marshall has a program tailored specifically for autistic students. The program serves three of the university’s 16,360 students and may eventually accommodate 10; it will remain small by choice.
“The goal is not for all students with Autism to attend Marshall, but for the program to become a model for other colleges,” says Barbara Becker-Cottrill, the Center’s director. “The true goal is for students to have the ability to attend the university of their choice. Our work will be working with other universities on how to establish a program such as this on their own campuses.”
Kim Ramsey, the Marshall program’s director, had this to say, “The problem is, social and daily living issues are interfering.”
This is not to be confused with a special education program. Like all students, they must meet and maintain the university’s academic standards. The Center offers tutoring, counseling, a quiet space to take exams, and help in the navigation of the bureaucracy and social world of college, i.e. how to schedule classes, join clubs, buy books and replace ATM cards that don’t work.
In a recent issue of the bimonthly, Asperger’s Digest, Lars Perner, an assistant professor of marketing at San Diego State University who has Asperger’s Syndrome, said, “How many college students have forms of Autism is impossible to determine as many go undiagnosed or are simply perceived as a little bit strange. The exact cause is unknown, although both genetics and environmental factors are suspected of playing a role. Some of these students might be able to get into college because of fairly strong academic credentials and a reasonable academic showing. That may not mean they will be able to stay in college.” Perner is also the author of a college selection guide.
Sadly, most autistic students either drop out or don’t even apply to college because they have difficulty with such tasks as doing all the paperwork, time management, taking notes and sitting for exams. Stephen Shore, who is finishing his doctoral degree in special education at Boston University and has been diagnosed with atypical development with strong autistic tendencies, said, “More programs like Marshall’s were needed. I think they would do much better and there would be a much higher rate of success if this type of program were available elsewhere.” However, as researchers learn more about Autism and public school services for Autism improve, more autistic students will graduate from high school and be academically, socially and emotionally prepared for college.
College Selection – Your Number One Priority
The following must be considered, but only after the family has visited the campus and is convinced their student will be able to “survive” at that school:
1. Accommodations: If proper accommodations are not made available to the student, then it would be futile to attend that particular college.
2. Curriculum: Ideally, there will be enough areas of interest for the student.
3. Setting: Urban or rural, close to home or far away, and a large or small student body are all issues that must be factored in.
4. Cost: Last but not least; like the 5th C when searching for that perfect diamond – is the cost. Paying for college is actually the easy part, because no matter what, you can borrow the money! And never lose sight of the fact that all the financial aid in the world is useless without that coveted admission ticket!
Some other criteria that should be particularly important for autistic students include:
1. A highly structured academic program
2. A second-to-none disabilities services program (or its equivalent)
3. A willingness to be flexible
4. Support for individual needs and a centralized counseling center
Experience with Autism is helpful, but the most important characteristics of the disabilities services program and counseling center are the commitment to providing individualized support and a willingness to learn about each student’s disability and needs. Because of the learning differences of students with high functioning Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome, they often benefit from tutoring, organizational and personal support services.