In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the growing number of college students on the spectrum:Meredith Kolodner writes at The Hechinger Report:
We do know that autistic students suffer high levels of depression, anxiety, and social isolation. We also know that their difficulties can affect their academic performance. (Group projects can be hard.) They have to cope with these problems without the protection of an IEP, since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act does not apply to higher education. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provide for certain accommodations (for instance, extra time for tests), but the student has to seek them. According to Jane Brown Thierfeld, co-director of an organization of professionals who assist autistic students, for every student receiving special services, there are one or two on that same campus who have not come forward.
Only a few dozen colleges have programs specifically designed to support students with autism, a recent study found. Many of the programs that do exist cost thousands of dollars per semester, on top of tuition. But there are practical and inexpensive methods to help these hundreds of thousands of students navigate the social and academic landmines that stymie them. Failing to help likely consigns them, as adults, to low-wage jobs, dependence on public assistance or ongoing reliance on their parents — who may also be struggling and are unlikely to outlive them.
A pilot program on five campuses at the City University of New York, where the number of students who disclosed that they are on the spectrum has more than doubled since 2012, has shown promising results.
Most CUNY students are low-income, and almost 40 percent come from households with incomes below $20,000 a year. The pilot program was implemented at no cost to students, and, for the most part, students participating in it over the last four years have been more likely to stay enrolled, improve their academic performance (grades for 60 percent of the participants at Kingsborough Community College went up) and report increased satisfaction with their social experience.
Faculty who oversee the program, dubbed Project REACH, emphasize that because of the vast differences in the behaviors and abilities of people on the spectrum, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But the program is built around a combination that works: weekly workshops (which are open to all students with disabilities) and one-on-one peer mentorship seem to meet a lot of students’ needs.