Academic and Personality Profiles of Higher Education Students with ASD

Thursday, May 15, 2014: 11:06 AM
Imperial B (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
W. Tops1,2,3, D. Baeyens1,2,4 and I. Noens4,5,6, (1)Code, Thomas More, Antwerp, Belgium, (2)Leuven Autism Research, LAuRes, Leuven, Belgium, (3)Neurolinguistics, University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands, (4)Parenting and Special Education Research Unit, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium, (5)Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA, Boston, MA, (6)Leuven Autism Research (LAuRes), KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Background:  An increasing number of students with ASD enter higher education, most likely due to better assessment, guidance and remediation in primary and secondary education. There is a lack of effective educational support services for adolescents with ASD to make smooth transition from secondary to higher education, jeopardizing the academic outcome of this group. 

Objectives:  Better insight in the specific difficulties and strengths and weaknesses of students with ASD is needed, especially in tertiary education. The first purpose of this study was to focus on the academic and personality profiles of students with ASD starting in their first year of higher education. Second we wanted to develop a theoretical framework for the guidance of students with ASD in higher education.

Methods:  Twenty-seven first bachelor students with ASD and 52 students with no neurological or functional deficiencies participated in this study. The students with ASD were diagnosed prior to this study in a multidisciplinary context according to DSM-IV criteria but all had (sub)clinical scores on the SRS-A at the time of participation. A wide range of academically relevant skills, such as IQ, vocabulary, memory (KAIT), reading and writing (GL&SCHR) were administered.  Next, we also took personality (NEO-PI-R) and study strategies inventories (LASSI) to get better insights in the study skills (metacognitive knowledge) and personality profile of students with ASD. ASD and control groups were compared using Hedges’ g effect sizes.

Results:  Students with ASD scored lower on reading and writing skills (-0.4 < d < -1) but they were as good as the control student on text comprehension. As for the study strategies inventory, students with ASD had poorer study techniques (d = -0.8) and test strategies (d = -0.4) than their peers without ASD. However, first bachelor students with ASD obtained significantly higher scores on a fluid intelligence scale than control students (d = 0.4). Short and long term memory skills were also higher in the ASD group than in the control group (0.2 < d < 0.6). Finally, students with ASD had a specific personality profile: students with ASD obtained lower scores for extraversion (d = -1.2), openness (-0.6), and agreeableness (-0.6) than control students. There was no difference for neuroticism (0.05) and conscientiousness (d = 0.2).

Conclusions:  Results show particular strengths and weaknesses in students with ASD. With these strengths some students can hypothetically compensate for ADS-specific impairments (EF, ToM, CC). We pointed out specific challenges for students with ASD and educational support services that can hopefully lead to better guidelines en regulations for these students. Implications for psycho-education and special arrangements in higher education for students with ASD are also discussed.