The Impact of an Inclusive Pre-College Program on Preparation for Higher Education for Students with ASD

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 4, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
B. Freedman and W. Garton, Center for Disabilities Studies, University of Delaware, Newark, DE
Background: Challenges for students with autism in college include difficulty with social communication and adjustment to changing support structures, as well as challenges with day-to-day problem-solving (Dentes & Koles, 2012). The difficulties in transitioning from high school to college contribute to these problems, since students are often not provided with explicit instruction on the systems changes and new skills required to be successful in a higher education setting (Cai & Richdale, 2016). Despite the challenges that persist for college students with ASD, specific supports designed for students with ASD are uncommon and unproven (Gelbar, 2016). Since 2015, the University of Delaware has offered high school students with disabilities a higher education preparation experience through an inclusive pre-college program. This presentation examines a subset of students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and the effects of program participation on readiness for post-secondary education.

Objectives: Explore the impact of a pre-college program for high school students with autism:

  • Identify trends in changes to an assessment of learning strategies
  • Share student reflections on growth from the program
  • Describe post-program changes for the student

Methods: Students received instruction in self-advocacy, social-communication and study skills through two primary interventions: 1) a three-credit, lecture-based course called Metacognitive Strategies, which emphasizes requisite academic and independent skills for college; and 2) academic coaching, an interpersonal process which has been found to be effective in enhancing student success (Mitchell & Topf, 2016). Following completion of the five-week program, students receive follow-up support through individualized and group meetings. A case study approach will be used to describe four previous students with ASD who participated in the pre-college program. Demographic characteristics, including academic profile and high school-based supports pre- and post-program will be shared. Changes in individual standard scores and percentiles on the Learning & Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI; Weinstein, Palmer, & Acee, 2016) will be presented. Educational achievement (e.g., grades in college-level courses) will be described, as well as changes to supports post-program.

Results: Each of the four students exhibited an increase on the study skills assessment and described greater confidence in college. Common themes among students included similarities in gains on LASSI (e.g., subscales in Attitude, Concentration, Time Management), and student reflections on changes from the program (e.g., greater confidence in pursuing college; increased ability to self-advocate). All four students successfully passed both college-level courses in the program. Students advocated for changes to their IEP/504 post-program in order to mirror accommodations more similar to college. This included one student advocating for a reduction in support from paraprofessional services.

Conclusions: Authentic higher education experiences in preparation for college entry shows significant promise for students with ASD. Students participating in a pre-college program showed an increase in study skills, expressed greater confidence in their ability to succeed and knowledge of how to be successful in higher education. The implementation of college-based accommodations and practice navigating higher education systems serves as an opportunity for the student to explore best-fit accommodations and authentically utilize them before enrolling in undergraduate courses as a college freshman.

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See more of: Education