AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS AND CHOOSING COLLEGE COURSES
By Julie Coulter
We just took our son, Drew, who has Asperger Syndrome, back to
college for his senior year. Time has really flown. It's hard to
believe he'll graduate next spring. Preparing to take him back to
school this year was easier than getting him ready to go his
Are you helping a student with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
prepare for his or her freshman year of college? Most of us spend a
lot of time assembling books and notebooks, gathering dorm room
furnishings and preparing transportation plans. We also need to
spend some time preparing our students to choose a major course of
study and making sure that they understand how to select classes,
register for courses, and track course completion.
DEVELOP A LONG TERM PLAN
Your student will
need to develop a long-term plan for each year of college and
schedule each required course for his or her chosen field of study.
Some students may choose to take a lighter course load and graduate
in five years instead of four. Faculty advisors can help students
develop a long term plan -- and continually review and adjust it to
fit their needs. If a student decides to change her major or field
of study, then the plan will have to change to accommodate the new
courses. During his sophomore year, Drew considered changing his
major to forensic science. He discovered that his college was in
the process of adding the forensic science major and would not have
all the courses available in time for Drew to complete them and
graduate in four years as he had planned.
CHOOSE A MAJOR FIELD OF STUDY
Some students may
know exactly where they want to work after college. For those who
need direction, both high school and college counselors can help
students evaluate various careers. When Drew decided to change his
major during his junior year, his school's career services counselor
agreed to meet with Drew once a week and helped him take the
"Discovery" on-line career aptitude test. The counselor also helped
Drew look at several career and "course of study" options. She
pointed out his writing strengths, which helped him decide to
concentrate on technical writing.
If your student is considering a career that will require graduate
studies, look at the entrance requirements for those programs.
Among other career paths, Drew considered library science. He
learned that this path required graduate work and that he would need
a B+ average in his undergraduate work to apply for the library
science graduate program at a university close to
The book, "Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger
Syndrome and High Functioning Autism" by Temple Grandin and Kate
Duffy -- published by the Autism Asperger Publishing Company -- is a
great resource for students who are evaluating different careers and
fields of study.
LEARN TO ASK FOR HELP
Some students with
ASDs may be reluctant to ask for help. Some may need help
understanding their responsibility in selecting courses. You can
help your student by going over the college or university course
catalog together and talking through the course selection process.
Every college or university has its own method of class
registration. Some colleges provide "peer advisors" (third year
college students who advise freshman students) as well as faculty
advisors. I encourage parents to stay in close communication during
the first few weeks as students begin classes. Students need to
understand their school's policy for dropping or adding a course.
Encourage your student to ask for help during the first few days of
classes if he needs to make a change. You may have to find out by
trial and error how much help to provide and when you risk stepping
over the line to become a hovering "helicopter parent." Your goal
is to help your student take responsibility for getting the right
courses so he can become increasingly independent and successful in
DECIDE ON DISCLOSURE TO PROFESSORS
Students with a
disability need to decide whether to disclose that disability to
professors. Each college or university will have a process for
students to inform professors if they require special
accommodations. The Office of Disability Services at Drew's college
provides a written guide for all professors with information about
each type of disability represented within the student body. Drew
is responsible for taking a copy of his class schedule to the Office
of Disability Services, which then generates a letter about Drew and
his special needs that is addressed to each of his professors. Drew
is responsible for delivering the completed letters. Some students
may feel comfortable meeting with their professors to discuss the
letter. Others may prefer to simply deliver the letter. This
process requires the students to actively participate in the process
and encourages them to advocate for themselves.
LEARN ABOUT THE WORK WORLD
Students who have a
part-time job will also learn the basics of the work world: being on
time, learning a work process and interacting with co-workers.
Students with autism spectrum disorders can benefit from working
part-time while they're in college -- as long as the job doesn't
create too much pressure and or take up too much study time. For
the first time this year, Drew will have a work-study job on
campus. He hopes to land a job in the library -- his favorite
BECOME A PLANNER
Learning to manage
college studies, self-care, social engagements and volunteer
activities is a big job. I learned from a professional at a
conference about a good planning tool -- a combination of a "To Do"
list and a calendar called the Planner Pad (available at
https://plannerpads.com/index.asp). Whatever planning tools he
uses, encourage your student to take time every day to plan his
activities and record his completed tasks.
We talked to Drew tonight on the phone and he's excited about his
new classes and has plans to meet his friends to play "Dungeons and
Dragons" this weekend. I miss having him around to help out with
our business, to grocery shop and to mow the lawn. Most of all, I
miss how much fun it is to have Drew around.
I'm compensated by the knowledge that Drew is completing his senior
year of college. I'm an unabashedly proud mom!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julie Coulter is the writer of "The College Prep
Portfolio," which helps students prepare throughout high school to
apply for college. You can find more articles on her website at:
Copyright 2005 Julie Coulter Used by Permission All Rights