Feedback from College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders on the Transition into College and on a Social Support Program for College Students with ASD

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
D. Davidson1, I. Misiunaite2 and E. Hilvert3, (1)Psychology, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, (2)Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, (3)Loyola University, Chicago, IL
Background: The transition into college for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a precarious life stage. Commonly cited challenges include a lack of structure, difficulty with new routines, social communication issues, and increased anxiety and depression (Cai & Richdale, 2015). As the number of students with ASD pursuing higher education is projected to increase substantially in the upcoming years (Government Accountability Office, 2016), it is imperative that colleges and universities develop adequate supports for these students.

Objectives: The primary objectives of this pilot project were to obtain information from college students with ASD about (1) their unique college transition experiences; and (2) their feedback about the design of a social support program for college students with ASD, i.e., the College Excellence in Students with Autism program (CESA).

Methods: Fifteen college students with ASD from 11 different states participated in this study. Participants were recruited through the host university’s Office of Services for Students with Disabilities, an additional local university, and postings on various websites (e.g., Autistic Self Advocacy Network). Through an online platform, participants completed a questionnaire that asked them about their college experiences, their access to academic and social services at their institutions, and their ideas about the CESA program.

Results: Overall, students with ASD rated their college experience as positive. However, 60% of students with ASD reported being overwhelmed by their transition to college. Additionally, we found that over 80% of students reported feeling anxious and/or depressed because of the social demands of college, whereas 73% of students reported feeling anxious and/or depressed because of the academic demands of college. Correlational analyses revealed a trend that students who were overwhelmed by the transition to college were more likely to report greater anxiety and depression because of the social demands of college. No relations were found between students’ reports of difficulty transitioning to college and their feelings of anxiety/depression because of academic demands. Interestingly, 73% of participants reported receiving academic services (e.g., extra time on exams) at their institutions, but only 33% of students reported receiving non-academic services (e.g., social support groups).

With regards to the design of the CESA program (see Table 1), the majority of college students with ASD surveyed believe it would be beneficial to have monthly social support group meetings during the entirety of the school year. Moreover, they believe it would be beneficial for the support group to have designated topics for discussion and that the support group would serve as a helpful way to meet other students on the spectrum and improve their social networks.

Conclusions: Overall, our findings demonstrate the need for additional services that support the transition to college for students with ASD, specifically services that provide greater access to social supports and social networks.