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Friday, October 20, 2017

Autistic College Students Are in Distress

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the growing number of college students on the spectrum.

At The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Scott L. J. Jackson, Logan Hart, Jane Thierfeld Brown and Fred R. Volkmar have a brief report titled "Self-Reported Academic, Social, and Mental Health Experiences of Post-Secondary Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder."

The abstract:
Increasing numbers of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are enrolling in post-secondary academic institutions. However, research indicates that post-secondary students with ASD are struggling more than their typically developing peers, with high rates of loneliness, anxiety, depression, and an increased incidence of dropping-out before completion of their degrees. The current study utilized an online survey to gain insight into the self-reported academic, social, and mental health experiences of post-secondary students with ASD. Participants reported high levels of academic comfort, but struggled with issues of isolation/loneliness and high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Of greatest concern, were the nearly three-quarters of participants who reported lifetime suicidal behaviors. Further analysis on collected data and implications of findings are discussed.
From the article:
Currently students with ASD are entitled to the supports and accommodations offered by post-secondary academic institutions after disclosing their diagnosis to educational support staff. However, many of the major areas of difficulty encountered by students with ASD in this study, as well as those in previous works (Gelbar et al. 2015; Anderson and Butt 2017), are not always fully covered or addressed by their school’s disability support office (Brown et al. 2014). Initial research suggests that students with ASD possess a fairly unique profile of challenges and needs compared to students with other disabilities such as ADHD (Elias and White 2017). As such, the accommodations typically granted to students with learning disabilities (e.g. extra time on exams, or separate test rooms), may not be as helpful for students with ASD or fully meet their needs (Brown et al. 2014). While a growing number of schools are beginning to implement programs specifically for students with ASD (Brown et al. 2014), providing parents and disability providers with appropriate knowledge and information on what to look out for and how they might facilitate this group of student’s success while in post-secondary education may represent a beneficial intermediate step. Mirroring suggestions of the study participants, the findings from the current study would suggest that colleges could help these students improve their experience at school with support programs designed to build social skills/networks (e.g. peer-mentor programs, ASD housing/clubs), and by improving the availability and quality of  ounseling/psychological services. It should additionally be noted that the estimated 0.7–1.9% of college students that would qualify as having ASD but are currently undiagnosed (White et al. 2011), would likely benefit from these specialized services, but will be unable to gain access to them without a formal diagnosis. As such, it is important for universities to keep an eye out for students in this category, who may otherwise fall through the cracks of the school system, so that they may help them navigate the process of gaining access to any support services they may need to achieve their potential in post-secondary academics.