Healthy College on the Spectrum: Managing Autism as a College Student

Adam Hanson, RN, BSN | Updated/Verified: May 20, 2024

Going to college can be a big step for anyone, but for students with autism, there are extra things to consider, like health concerns, mental health support, and making sure suitable accommodations are in place. Our guide is here to help make this big step a little easier.

Did you know that students with autism attend college at lower rates than their peers – and even fewer graduate? It’s estimated that only 39% of students with autism who start college finish, compared to 64% of all students.

However, with proper support, many can thrive in college. College students with disabilities, including autism, are more comfortable and successful in college when they have access to accommodations like quiet study areas and extended test time – simple strategies that can make a difference.

Fewer than 20% of college students with autism have graduated college or were on track to graduate 5 years after high school.

So, how do you address these concerns and ensure the right support is provided? Our guide is filled with statistics and information from trusted sources, showing the importance of getting the right support and accommodations. We want everyone to understand and share this resource to spread awareness and support for autistic college-bound students.

This resource is excellent for teens and their parents, educators, and healthcare providers as they help neurodivergent college students transition from youth healthcare, pediatricians, IEPs, and other supports to a college campus and the various challenges.

Organizations

Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Institute helped launch Autism Science Month and has information about autism as well as tests for those who think they’re on the spectrum.

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Join ASAN for free access to its webinars and resources, such as an entire library of articles on current and past research into autism disorders.

Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism

The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism has many articles, such as What ticks are, and links to some of the world’s best autism organizations.

Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network

This nonprofit, which promotes the tagline "Neurodiversity is for everyone," offers webinars and other free resources to help people on the spectrum.

Autism Speaks

On its official website, you can learn the basics of autism and how parents and others can join this organization.

National Autism Association

The NAA helps you find shoes and other products that are easy to use and provides information on the symptoms of autism and its unique programs.

Autism Society

You can get help from the Autism Justice Center or read through this organization’s blog to learn how autism affects you and others.

The Color of Autism Foundation

The Color of Autism Foundation offers support for the families of children with autism, ensuring they get the help they need to recover from their shared trauma.

Autism in Black

Designed for People of Color diagnosed with autism, this organization offers counseling for individuals and couples and has a blog and a podcast.

Autism Empowerment

Autism Empowerment is a nonprofit organization that offers a podcast, blog, magazine, and dictionary of autism terms for kids with autism.

RELATED NURSING & AUTISM CONTENT

Accommodations

College Accommodations: Strategies and Supports for ADHD and Autistic Students

This piece discusses the challenges of transitioning to college for those with autism and provides tips on how to make the process easier.

Autism and the College Experience

Marina Sarris wrote this article focusing on why self-advocacy is important and how colleges can support students with autism on their campuses.

What are Typical Challenges and Accommodations for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

This piece explores some of the accommodations that help students with ASD, such as giving them quiet spaces and pairing them with a note-taker.

How Do Students with Disabilities Get Accommodations at College?

LD Advisory released this video to show students with autism and other disabilities how they can get the accommodations they need in college.

Advice for Parents on College Transition for Autistic Students – Common College Accommodations

Stairway to STEM designed this short video to show parents the accommodations available for autistic students on college campuses and how to get them.

Autism Goes to College, What Do Professors Really Think about Autistic Students?

Autism Goes to College spoke with real college professors to get their perspectives on what they think about autistic students and their experiences.

Going to College with Autism

On this page, learn how to navigate the world of college classes and how self-advocacy skills like communication can help.

Documentation Guidelines: Autism Spectrum Disorders

The College Board reviews the documentation guidelines parents and students must follow to get accommodations for any of its tests.

There are no IEPs in College: Succeeding with Accommodations

Heidi Hillman from Eastern Washington University discusses how ASD students can succeed in college with the right accommodations.

Obtaining Approved Accommodations Through Your College’s Disability Services Office

Find out how you can get the accommodations you need for your autism through your college with help from Dr. Lauren Lestremau Allen.

35% of young adults (ages 19-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school.

Articles

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Their First-Year College Experiences

Going to college as a student with autism is a challenging experience, and this article examines some of the challenges that they face in their first year.

The Transition to College: Lived Experiences of Academically Talented Students with Autism

Forty students with autism talked to a group of researchers to discuss the challenges they faced when transitioning from high school to college.

Prospective College Students With Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parent Perspectives

This article examines the issues from the perspectives of the parents of college students on the autism spectrum.

The Needs of College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger’s Syndrome

In this journal article, you’ll discover how the rise in students on the autism spectrum leads to colleges making major changes to accommodate them.

Experiences of Autistic College Students in Higher Education and Their Relations with Faculty

This study detailed what factors help students with autism succeed in college and how their relations with faculty members assist.

A Scoping Review of Supports on College and University Campuses for Autistic Post-Secondary Students

Multiple authors worked on this article, reviewing recent research to determine the support available on college campuses across the nation for students with ASD.

Preparing Future Faculty to More Inclusively Teach Autistic College Students: Examining an Inclusive Teaching Professional Development Course

Brett Ranon Nachman from the University of Arkansas wrote this paper, focusing on the best ways to prepare professors and faculty members for working with autistic students in college settings.

Navigating Challenges to Facilitate Success for College Students with Autism

This journal article focuses on the 3R model and shows how it can assist autistic college students in navigating the challenges that prevent their educational success.

Perceptions of College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder on the Transition to Remote Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic

University of Connecticut students worked on this paper, which looks at how COVID-19 led to remote learning and what students with autism did to transition to the new setting.

Accessibility Service Providers’ Perceptions of College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Nearly 150 service providers participated in a survey, and you can read their responses in this article to see how they think and feel about working with college students who have ASD.

Support

Transition Tool Kit

Available from Autism Speaks, this tool kit includes multiple sections on educational opportunities and housing support for autistic students heading to college.

College Programs for Students with Autism

The American Autism Association offers a guide to college programs in the United States that offer specific programs for students with autism.

College Autism Network

Read through the articles and resources from the College Autism Network to see current research and learn about local events and how to join.

Summer Programs

Get ready for college early or earn credits towards your degree through any programs on this page open for summer students.

Supporting College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Though this video is over an hour long, it includes many tips and information on how parents and teachers can support students with ASD.

College Support Options for Autistic Students

Eric Endlich discusses the standard level of support granted by colleges to students with autism and the advanced support that is available, including learning support programs and academic coaching.

Autism without Fear: A Major Flaw in College Autism Programs

Writing for New York University Connections ASD Program, Michael John Carley examines the biggest issues in college programs designed for autistic students, such as the lack of professors with autism.

How Colleges Can Prepare for Students with Autism

Brendan Borrell talks about how many colleges are not ready for the rise in autistic students and the challenges they face to help them change their programs in this piece.

Students on the Autism Spectrum are Often as Smart as Their Peers – So Why Do So Few Go to College?

In this piece, you’ll learn about a pilot program at the City University of New York that aims to help students with autism overcome the challenges of college and how similar programs can increase the number of autistic students.

Supporting Learning in Students with Autism: What Do Professors Need to Know?

Read about Jason, a college student with autism who has future goals but experiences problems in college, to see how professors can help students in similar positions overcome their educational challenges.

27% of students with ASD report being enrolled in a learning support program during their first year of college.

Transitioning to Adult Healthcare with Autism

Autism-Related Guidelines for Healthcare Providers

Autism Speaks offers a guide to resources from Pediatrics to help healthcare providers learn how to best work with and treat patients with autism.

Leaving the Pediatrician: Charting the Medical Transition of Youth with Autism

The Kennedy Krieger Institute designed a practical guide for young adults transitioning from a pediatrician to an adult doctor.

Health Status and Health Care Use Among Adolescents Identified With and Without Autism in Early Childhood: An Easy-Read Summary

In this article from the CDC, you’ll see the medical experiences of adolescents with and without autism and how the diagnosis changed their healthcare.

Transitioning from Pediatric to Adult Health Care is Often Difficult for Adolescents with ASD

Also, from the CDC this page of the website focuses on how transitioning from pediatrics to adult doctors is often hard for those on the autism spectrum.

Addressing Medical Needs of Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders in a Primary Care Setting

This study looks at the lack of health care that adolescents and young adults with autism receive and some of the issues that led to the problem.

Accessing Comprehensive Health Care

Autism Speaks discusses the healthcare issues facing autistic people here and how to close the gaps they experience to provide them with their needed medical care.

Autism and Mental Health: How to Support Your Teen

Learn from a licensed medical doctor on how parents can support their autistic teens in this article, which also talks about how to identify the signs of depression and other behavioral issues.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

TeensHealth offers a detailed guide on ASD, what it’s like for diagnosed children, the causes, and the potential treatments, including speech therapy and certain medications.

Transition to Adult Healthcare is Often Challenging for Autistic Children

Spectrum News published this article to talk about the problems adolescents have when transitioning to adult doctors and how to prepare them for the change and fill the gap between their different doctors.

Self Advocacy

Best Practices in Self-Advocacy Skill Building

Created by the Parent Center Network, this page explains self-advocacy and provides readers with resources on how to develop their skills.

A Classroom Exercise That Teaches Self-Advocacy and Celebrates Differences

Read this simple article to learn about an exercise you can do at home or in the classroom to build solid self-advocacy skills.

Developing Self-Advocacy Skills: Activities for High School Students

Everyday Speech created a list of activities to help high school students learn self-advocacy skills, such as decision-making and problem-solving.

Self Advocacy

In this piece, Stephen M. Shore defines self-advocacy and examines its importance and the skills students need in the real world.

Self-Advocacy Skill Building for Teens

Suitable for parents and the loved ones of those with autism, this article helps them learn how to teach self-advocacy to teens and kids.

Empowering Autistic Youth to Be Self-Advocates

Rise and Shine helps autistic youth become self-advocates and shows them the skills they need at each level of their education.

Teaching Your Child Self-Advocacy

Autism Speakers offers a toolkit to help parents teach their kids the basics of self-advocacy, including using role-playing games and talking to autistic adults.

Self Advocacy and Autism

Use this resource to learn what self-advocacy means, the role of parents in the process, how to teach and practice those skills, and the consequences of not developing the right skills.

Help Children Learn How to Self Advocate

The Organization for Autism Research uses this article to discuss how parents and teachers can help children develop self-advocacy skills, which assist them in making independent decisions.

Our Motto: What is "Nothing About Us Without Us?"

ASAN discusses this term to show that autistic people must be involved in decisions relating to autism and shares a section on how self-advocacy helps them become independent thinkers.

Podcasts

Autism Goes to College

With more than 30 episodes, Autism Goes to College helps you learn what to do if your professor doesn’t listen to you and how to tackle your first semester.

Neurodiversity Podcast

The Neurodiversity Podcast helps students with autism transition to college, prepare for the ACT or SAT, and understand what they need in higher education.

ABA Inside Track

Episode 69 of ABA Inside Track took place in St. Louis, Missouri, during a live event and was shared online to cover tips on helping students transition from high school to college.

Neurodiversity

Here are some of the best podcasts for people with autism: Check out the links to titles like Parenting Severe Autism and Autism Stories.

Autism: Making the Transition to College

Doctor Chris Keary joined this podcast episode to help future students learn about the college transition and how it affects those with ASD.

STS Podcast

Download any of these podcasts to explore unique and interesting subjects like autistic students in STEM classes and how to find mentors in college.

College, Disabilities, and Success Podcast

Mickie Hayes operates this podcast, which has 99 episodes and covers topics such as flexible deadlines, reading accommodations, and choosing the right college.

Autism and Education: Science and Me

Thomas Herrera is a biology teacher who works with autistic students and uses his experiences to discuss how ASD affects students in the classroom.

Autism Conversations in the School

Every episode of this podcast features a different educational expert discussing handling challenging behaviors and other issues.

Steps to Autism Acceptance Podcast

Run by members of the Stairway to STEM board, this podcast focuses on helping students with ASD get the acceptance they deserve in higher education.

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