Anyone working in Higher Ed disability services will be familiar with the challenge of providing support across a range of needs. Supplying assistive technology for institutions around the US, we know how tough that can be.
That’s why we wanted to focus specifically on accommodations for students with autism, and steps your institution could take to improve outcomes for these students.
Autism is a complex condition that creates a wide range of potential limitations for learners. Here, we break down the key takeaways from some recent research on the subject and present you with 6 measures that have been shown to help.
1. Robust Transition Programming
The jump between high school and college is a big one for all students. But for students with autism, this gulf can be particularly hard to cross.
The problem lies in legislation. Transitioning from High School to College means moving from a system of entitlement through IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) to a system based on protection from discrimination. In essence, this means that autistic students often ‘face a significant reduction in support when they enter college’.
It’s therefore important for institutions to effectively plan for transition, especially when considering the fact that ‘less than 10% of high school students with disabilities reported having college preparation meetings’.
Having an easily accessible and well-publicised program to help autistic students in the first months of study could limit retention problems and other issues down the line. It could also provide an opportunity to create a great first impression of Disability Services and accommodations available.
2. Social and Living Accommodations
Academic accommodations are crucial, but a condition like autism also has myriad effects on other aspects of a student’s life.
Take social needs, for instance. In many cases, shared accommodation is not the best option for an autistic student’s welfare. But only 39.2% of institutions offer single residency at a lower cost for students with autism. Whilst 55.5% did offer this option at cost, it still leaves a sizable number not employing this accommodation.
The problem Disability Support departments have is making reasonable accommodations for a student’s social needs without isolating them from their peers. Loneliness and the toll it takes on mental health is apparent throughout Higher Ed, and affects those with disabilities disproportionately.
Peer mentoring is an accommodation that could help create that connection between an autistic student and his or her fellows, and potentially help sustain lasting social skills.
Working with student organizations to encourage integration is a route that has produced encouraging results, too.
3. Specialized Career Counselling
Despite the fact that employment rates are much lower for graduates with a disability than those without, only 26% of institutions have implemented targeted careers support.
This is especially important when considering how students described their concerns about the transition to employment. Many were anxious about how they might appear in job interviews, their ability to write a resume and even disclosing their disability at all.
It makes sense that proactive efforts to address these anxieties within the college context will help with professional development, smoothing the transition to employment.
4. Note Taking Accommodation
A major difference between secondary education and College is the manner of instruction. Moving from an interactive classroom environment to a lecture format requires well-developed note taking skills.
The effect autism can have on communication and sensory perception can make the traditional note taking method problematic. Having an accommodation for autistic students to help with taking notes could improve attainment and help develop independent study skills.
By utilizing assistive technology you could not only avoid piling additional pressure onto Disability Service budgets, but actually help reduce them.
This is something we at Sonocent care passionately about. By harnessing the power of technology, you could help students help themselves.
5. One-to-One Mentoring
Providing students with one-to-one support is another accommodation to consider. As mentioned, the college classroom differs significantly from its high school counterpart. Emerging from a lecture with dozens or hundreds of other students can be alienating for those that benefit from a more personal method of instruction.
Facilitating one-to-one support between students with autism and faculty, disability services or other staff and departments could be a way to offset this issue.
When interactions with staff are positive and encouraging, students respond accordingly.
6. Educating Faculty
Misconceptions about disability still persist. Faculty perception of accommodations can be one example of this in action.
It’s important to make the nature of accommodation as clear as possible to teaching staff. Otherwise, its true purpose can be misconstrued. It’s all-too-common for professors to regard accommodations as giving either an unfair advantage to students or to be indicative of a student that lacks capability.
A student’s experience of utilizing accommodations can be significantly affected by faculty attitudes, both positively and negatively. Educating faculty about the purpose, functionality and benefits of these measures can have a huge impact.
Accommodations for students with autism come in different forms, but they can be just as much about shaping attitudes as providing specific tools.
But as we argue, technological developments have made effective provision of support that much easier for Disability Services departments.
Find out more about how assistive technology could benefit your students with autism by targeting the skill most important to the lecture format – note taking.