A College Structure for Students with Asperger Syndrome

By — Autism Society
Updated on Jul 28, 2009

It’s a giant oversimplification to assume that autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger Syndrome (AS), and neurotypicality are really about two worlds trying to understand one another—the spectrum universe and everyone else—but there is some truth to it too. Each side spends infinite amounts of time, money and resources attempting to figure out what the other world is thinking. This is wise, as such progress enables desperately needed communication. Mistakes made in misinterpretations between these two worlds can be infinitely more damaging than those brought on by an actual diagnosis of AS.

One arena within “normal” life that is making great strides in understanding individuals with AS (though it’s not “there” yet) is the world of postsecondary university life. Partially out of the desire to move mankind forward, and because “there’s gold in them thar hills,” many colleges are paying more attention to students who need some accommodations. College personnel are working to alleviate the misperceptions that their students with AS have, and in return, professors and other college staff are listening more to their students.

The Federal Mandate to Offer Support

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 paved the way. Under this legislation, colleges not run by religious organizations must have an Office of Student Disabilities, or an ADA Compliance Officer. Within these offices, students can seek assistance in a variety of forms, including counseling or tutoring, that will help them succeed.

Granted, families need to do their research. Some colleges take this responsibility very seriously, while others do not. That is, they may have an Office of Student Disabilities that has ill-trained personnel and limited resources or offer resentful lip service to federal law.

Families also need to understand that what makes the average young adult with AS attractive to universities is the fact that these individuals usually have no shortage of brainpower. This is crucial knowledge because colleges that guide the student through to academic success while paying no attention to the social demands of campus dorm life do not usually graduate a student who enjoys career success. The social portion of university life should always be treated with equal importance. Nobody goes to school solely for scholastic growth.

Characteristics of the Best Programs

So what do the best programs offer? The best support for professors can be found with the ADA Compliance Officer. In the old days, many students with AS were treated as obstinate, argumentative or just “a pain” with all their special demands, and ill consequences often followed. Without a proper and organized chain of communication between staff and faculty, those old days can resurface very quickly. Mandatory, one-time presentations to faculty on the nature of their student’s diagnosis are the easiest and most effective solution to prevent the recurrence of misunderstanding of students with AS.

The best representatives of the Office of Student Disabilities also share this same knowledge with dorm supervisors (and, if applicable, athletic coaches). The peer isolation that may have existed in high school does not automatically disappear simply because said peers are older, or because there is a new set of peers with whom the student with AS can interact. The behavioral differences that AS can present can stigmatize a student as “the weird kid” for their entire stay in college, or worse, can be misinterpreted as a threat, causing bigger problems than mere friendlessness.

The best Offices of Student Disabilities create as much work for themselves as they can. Superior Compliance Officers always help students identify needed accommodations that will help them succeed on campus.

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