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Preparing for College and Beyond for Young Adults with ASD

Published November 13, 2019

By Sandi Rosenbaum, Special Needs/Special Education Advocate, Littman Krooks  LLP

Preparing for jobs, college and beyond is challenging for young adults with autism and families.  College readiness is fundamentally different from high school competence.  Many of the demands of college are not generally imposed in high school, especially upon students with disabilities:

  • Student, not parent or special education teacher, has primary responsibility for the student’s success, and as such must independently:
  • Select and register for courses
  • Disclose disability and request accommodations of each professor, each semester
  • Structure student’s own time with many fewer hours of classes and much more homework
  • Seek clarification from professor or teaching assistant when concepts or course demands are not clear
  • Advocate for own needs with faculty and administration – parents lack access as university employees may not share confidential student information with others
  • Student experience extends beyond academics to adaptive living skills.  These skills will be needed not only at college, but on the job, and therefore are critical even if student ultimately decides to pursue a different post-secondary path:
  • Wake self up in the morning (including ability to disengage from activities at night to go to sleep)
  • Personal hygiene – toileting, grooming
  • Select nutritious food and eat politely with others
  • Laundry (clothing, detergent, laundry room environment)
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Coping skills

For many students, it may not be realistic to reach the levels of independence in both academics and independent living skills that are necessary to go away to college, while also pursuing diploma requirements in order to complete high school.  To prepare for college, the student must learn how to manage without certain IEP features that may have seemed necessary earlier in the student’s education, but will not be available in a post-secondary environment:

  • Study guides provided
  • Extended deadlines
  • Enhanced staffing/1:1 aides
  • Exemptions from group projects – this is necessary not only for college but for the world of work
  • All homework done in school

There are several strategies that parents and students can employ to make the pathway more manageable.  One is to consider delaying high school graduation for a year or two, to allow the student not only to complete necessary courses, but to learn developmentally appropriate study skills.

Another would be to graduate from high school “on time”, but then to pursue either independent living or college-level work, and become acclimated to the demands of one before adding the other.  For instance, a student could attend a transition program to concentrate on independent living skills, which may include a college-like schedule but without the academic demands of college-level work.  Alternatively, a student could begin college studies while continuing to live at home, so as to acclimate to the academic demands of college before increasing the level of independence in the home, moving out only when academically comfortable and comfortable with the necessary degree of independence. has detailed information for developing a plan for college and identifying the wide variety of skills needed for readiness.

Growing into adulthood is a challenge for all students, and even more so for students with disabilities.  However, understanding the necessary steps makes success more achievable.

On Sunday October 27,  experts including Jane Thierfield Brown, Ed.D, director of the College Autism Spectrum organization, presented the challenges and important advice at a conference: Youth on the Autism Spectrum:  Jobs, College and Beyond in New Haven, CT cosponsored by the Center of Excellence – Autism Spectrum Disorders at Southern Connecticut State University and Yale University’s NIH Autism Center of Excellence at the Yale Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine. Ernst Van Bergeijk, Ph.D., MSW, director of the Threshold Program at Lesley College in Cambridge, MA; and Peter Gerhardt, Ed.D., Executive Director of the EPIC Programs in Paramus, NJ, also presented.

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