Transition of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder to Higher Education

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
T. C. Bakker1, S. Begeer2, A. C. Krabbendam3 and S. Bhulai4, (1)Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands, (2)VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands, (3)Clinical Developmental Psychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands, (4)Mathematics, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Background: A growing number of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is enrolling in higher education (Zeedyk et al., 2016). Despite this, studies on the transition of individuals with ASD from secondary school to higher education are limited. A systematic review of the literature (Gelbar et al., 2014) found only 20 articles, mostly case studies or self-reported experiences of in total no more than 69 college students diagnosed with ASD. Empirical research on college students with ASD is needed to complement existing qualitative insights and support policy making.

Objectives: The first objective of this study is to advance empirical research on college students with ASD. The second objective is to improve our understanding of the transition of students with ASD to higher education, comparing it to the transition of students with other conditions and students without known conditions.

Methods: Using an administrative data set with enrollments in bachelor programs of a major university in Europe from 2010 to 2016 consisting of 99 students formally diagnosed with ASD, 2,312 students with other conditions such as ADD/ADHD and dyslexia (OC), and 26,218 regular students (RS). The data set contains features on demographics, ethnicity, secondary education and examination grades, family background and support, orientation and planning, application, enrollment, matching, participation in an introduction program, language proficiency, disabilities and comorbidity.

Results: Preliminary analyses show differences between students with ASD and their peers. Most students with ASD were male (ASD: 71.7%; OC: 41.6%; RS: 45.4%). On average, students with ASD were older (ASD median = 20; OC median = 19; RS median = 19) and more often had non-standard pre-education degrees (ASD 9.09%; OC 2.77%; RS 2.44%). Students with ASD with a high school degree had similar examination grades compared to regular students, and better examination grades compared to students with other conditions. No differences were found in the way students with ASD orientated themselves. They had higher scores on help awareness and lower scores on self-reported extra-curricular activities and work compared to students with other conditions and regular students. Ethnicity of students with ASD was similarly distributed compared to regular students. On language proficiency, they scored better than students with other conditions and regular students, especially with regard to vocabulary. Comorbidity in students with ASD was more common than in students with other disabilities; most common combinations were dyslexia and ADD/ADHD.

Conclusions: The current findings are promising with regard to our empirical understanding of the characteristics and transition of college students with ASD. It appears that students with ASD need more time to reach higher education. On the other hand, students with ASD who do have a high school or comparable degree, show more similarity with regular students and have a better starting point compared to students with other conditions. Combined, these insights might indicate the importance of early diagnosis of ASD for transition to higher education.

This study was funded by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Conflict of interest: None.