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Editor’s Note: When this article was published in 2011, the name of the student-contributor to the article was included.  In 2017, the individual requested that her identifying information be removed, but the article remain.  This individual, then a student, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) in 8th grade.  At the time the article was submitted, she was a senior at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, MN, with a major in biology and a minor in psychology. This article is based upon a paper written by the individual as part of a Developmental Psychology course requirement. As a successful college student with AS, she wished to promote awareness of AS to college academic advisors. She was assisted in the development of the article by academic advisor Michelle Sauer and department of psychology member Janet Tilstra.

 

Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) present “qualitative impairment in social interaction” characterized by “restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities” (DSM-IV-TR, 2000). Many students with AS are intelligent, highly driven, and plan to attend college (Lawrence, Alleckson, & Bjorklund, 2010). As a student with AS, I planned from a young age to go to college and graduate school. Indeed, more individuals with AS are attending college than ever before (Smith, 2007). In spite of this strong interest in pursuing post-secondary education, many students with AS end up failing or dropping out of college. Some are overwhelmed by the social stresses of residential living. Others are unable to manage themselves or their homework without parental guidance. Other issues that can set a student up for failure are lack of self-advocacy, social rejection, homesickness, and associated transition stressors. Below I briefly review existing support models for students with AS and discuss my perspective as a college student with AS.

AS was not officially recognized as a unique diagnosis until 1994 (DSM-IV: APA, 1994). Subsequently, little research has been completed on the college experiences of individuals with AS. Common models of support include: specialized first-year seminar classes, specialized live-in residences, collaboration with an external rehabilitation agency, and establishment of a working relationship with the school’s disability services or advising office.

Students with AS who attend the University of Connecticut can sign up for a specialized first-year experience class that helps them succeed in their subsequent college years. Similar to first-year classes for other incoming students, this class meets once a week to introduce students to basic skills for college success. Students with AS participate in a dedicated section taught by staff members from the school’s Center for Students with Disabilities. Some topics are specifically tailored to the needs of students with AS such as organization, time management, and social skills (Wenzel & Rowley, 2010). I believe a class like this would be beneficial to college students with AS, especially since the model is integrated into the college curricula. This way, students (and their parents) need not worry about arranging and paying for outside services. One limitation of this model for small colleges (such as my school) is that there may not be enough students with AS to warrant creating a separate first-year symposium section. This is unfortunate since the topics covered in these classes are things that I had issues with over my undergraduate career (i.e., time management and social skills). I believe such a class would be one of the best support options for students with AS.

Another support model for college students with AS is private live-in support within residential settings (Lipka, 2006).  Students in this model attend classes at an area college (usually a community college) and receive support services such as tutoring and social skills classes as well as reminders to attend class, personal hygiene assistance, and assistance with household chores. Advocates and program directors may question whether students who require this level of day-to-day support should attempt college. Indeed the level of support within this model might seem patronizing for a higher-functioning individual with AS. One prospective student commented, “it seemed sort of like a day-care center” (Lipka, 2006).  This support model would not have been a good fit for me since I gained independence through living by myself without such involved supervision and care. However a live-in program might be helpful for high-needs students.

Dillon (2007) suggested that another option for students with AS attending colleges that offer limited direct support is to use services from local rehabilitation agencies (i.e., programs created to aid people with disabilities). Although these programs are not tailored specifically for the college context, staff are well-versed on the supports an individual with AS needs to live independently and function in society. These services usually come at a cost; details vary by state.

While some specific programs have been developed for students with AS, most students with AS receive minimal accommodations from their colleges. The most common accommodations are extended testing times, moderately reduced course load, registration assistance, and preferential seating in the classroom.  I am one of the many students with AS who relied on these academic supports throughout college since my school does not have a center for students with disabilities. Thanks to my academic advisor, my parents, and understanding professors, I have succeeded in college. I can see how someone in my situation could give up on college without proper guidance. One of the most important skills I learned in the last four years was self-advocacy; I learned that speaking with faculty members if I had a problem or question was essential and not as intimidating as it first appeared.  I would like to see advisors and teachers encourage this skill in students with AS, as it is highly beneficial.

Each individual with AS has unique needs; these needs may result in different levels of support. Intensive support programs may benefit some students with AS, while more moderate support levels may be appropriate for others (Lawrence, Alleckson, & Bjorklund, 2010). After reading literature on this topic, I realize much more research is needed regarding effective support models for college students with AS. Indeed, Hughes (2009) noted that more than 50% of high school graduates with learning disabilities attend college and the percentage of students with AS attending college may be even higher.

It is exciting that more students with AS are entering college. Feedback from students who participate in various support models can help us better address the needs of students with AS and maximize their college experiences.


Student
College of St Benedict | St John’s University

Michelle Sauer
Academic Advisor
College of St Benedict | St John’s University
msauer@csbsju.edu

Janet Tilstra
Department of Psychology
College of St Benedict | St John’s University
jtilstra@csbsju.edu

References

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Edition). Washington, DC.

Dillon, M. R. (2007). Creating supports for college students with Asperger Syndrome through collaboration. College Student Journal, 41(2), 499-504.

Firth, U. (2004). Emanual Miller lecture: Confusions and controversies about Asperger's Syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 672-686.

Hughes, J. L. (2009). Higher education and Asperger's Syndrome. Chronicle of Higher Education, 55(40), 21.

Lawrence, D. H., Alleckson, D. A., & Bjorklund, P. (2010). Beyond the roadblocks: Transitioning to adulthood with Asperger's Disorder. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 24(4), 227-238.

Lipka, S. (2006). For the learning disabled, a team approach to college. Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(17), A36-A37.

Smith, C. P. (2007). Support services for students with Asperger's Syndrome in higher education. College Student Journal, 41(3), 515-531.

Wenzel, C., & Rowley, L. (2010). Teching social skills and scademic strategies to college students with Asperger's Syndrome. Teaching Exceptional Children, 42(5), 44-50.

 

Posted in: 2011 June 34:2

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