Needs of Postsecondary Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Perspectives and Recommendations from College Professionals

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
S. L. Jackson, L. A. Hart, J. T. Brown and F. R. Volkmar, Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT
Background: The number of students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) entering into post-secondary academics is increasing (Shattuck et al., 2012). However, despite academic proficiency, students with ASD are less likely to graduate (39%) than the general student-body (52%), and students with other disabilities (41%; Gelbar, Shefcyk, & Reichow, 2015). As completion of a college degree is significantly related to positive adult outcomes in ASD (Newman et al., 2011), a better understanding of why these students are struggling is needed. Current literature on this topic has primarily relied on student or parental perspectives to address this question, overlooking the valuable insights of the post-secondary professionals who work directly with this student population.

Objectives: The current study aims to expand our understanding of the experiences and needs of college students with ASD by examining the insights and perceptions of college/university professionals who work with these students.

Methods: The current sample consists of 15 professionals (12 Disabilities Office staff, 2 Therapists/Counselors, and 1 Health-Care Provider), from a range of post-secondary institutions (3 from 2-year/Community Colleges, 6 from Public Universities, 6 from Private Universities) across the USA. All data was collected through an anonymous online survey (Qualtrics) and data collection is on-going.

Results: All college professionals surveyed either ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly’ agreed with the statement that there has been an increase in students with ASD at their institution over the past few years. The number of registered students with ASD ranged from 4-280 (M=56.4, SD=72.2), with an average male:female ratio of 4.6:1. Surveyed professionals reported that the majority of students with ASD utilize at least one of the school-provided support services (M=76.7%, SD=32.8), but on average they reported these services as only slightly-moderately effective. In general, surveyed professionals somewhat-strongly disagreed with the statement that students with ASD were adequately prepared for their transition to college, with navigating social settings, conflict resolution, group work, and study habits/organization being identified as the areas of greatest need. All surveyed professionals noted psychiatric comorbidities as a prevalent issue, with the most commonly reported being ADHD, SAD, Depression, and GAD. Professionals from larger schools (10,000+ students) noted significantly greater difficulty with campus/community navigation for their students with ASD (U=10.5, p<0.05). Professionals from smaller schools (less than 10,000 students) noted significantly more problems with the personal hygiene and self-care of their students with ASD (U=6.5, p<0.05), however, this is thought to be related to easier recognition of such issues in a smaller student-body. As data collection continues, additional analyses will be performed.

Conclusions: In support of findings from student/parental perspectives, professionals working with college students with ASD believe the greatest challenges faced by this population generally stem from non-academic aspects of collegiate life. Greater transition preparation before embarking into postsecondary academics, improved and broader support services for students with ASD, and more specific trainings for college staff on ASD-related issues were all recommended by the study participants as ways to improve the outcomes for this student population. Additional research on how best to implement these suggestions is still needed.