Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by social, communication and behavioral challenges. Autism is known as a “spectrum” disorder because there is a wide variety symptoms and behaviors. Autism also can be viewed through the lens of neurodiversity which characterizes autism as a different way of sensing, communication and experiencing the world.
When students begin their higher education pursuits they may experience difficulties navigating the various contexts of the University setting. These difficulties may be enhanced for students with autism as they may struggle in classroom group work, meeting with professors, managing roommate relationships, or simply engaging in social functions on campus.
There has been an increase in ASD diagnoses in the last 20 years. With increased numbers, students with theses diagnoses received more support in the primary and secondary education settings and more are coming to the University. Because of this it is important that we, as a campus, work together to determine what supports will be helpful for these students in the college setting.
Not all students with ASD diagnoses will not all present in the same way. They will come to the University with different strengths and challenges. Below are some of the commonalities that are seen in this population. However, how and to what extent these are present will vary greatly between individuals.
Strengths Of Students With Autism Spectrum Disoders
- Average, or above average, intelligence
- Excellent rote memory
- Very detail-oriented
- Often savant-like knowledge in certain areas
- Works well with concrete, rather than abstract or ambiguous, information
- Extensive vocabulary
- Incredible gifts/talents in certain areas (arts, math, sciences, etc.)
- Unique ability to perceive things in new ways, out of the box thinking
Challenges For Students With Autism Spectrum Disoders
- Difficulty interpreting nonverbal cues
- Minimal expression of emotion in speech
- Withdrawal from other people and difficulty sustaining conversations
- Difficulty developing peer relationships
- Difficulty seeing the overall picture
- May be bluntly honest
- Difficulty understanding figures of speech
- Can be over stimulated by sound, crowds, lights, smells
- Inside feelings do not always match outside behavior
- Difficulty recognizing faces out of the usual setting
Suggestions For Working With Students With ASD
- Provide advance notice of topics to be discussed
- Provide advance notice of meetings or changes in schedules
- Allow written responses in lieu of verbal responses
- Help student develop checklists for assignments
- Reduce auditory/sensory distractions
- Facilitate discussions around prioritizing tasks
- Provide written instructions
- Review classroom policies and expectations
- Provide concrete examples to explain appropriate behavior and “rules” of the classroom
“If you’ve met one person with autism – you’ve met one person with autism.” Stephen Shore
Launched in 2019, the Longhorn TIES (Transition, Inclusion, Empower, Success) initiative seeks to enhance the student experience for students who identify as being on the autism spectrum through advocacy, connections and training starting with the new student orientation process and continuing throughout the student’s academic career. This initiative will also serve as a resource for UT Austin faculty and staff. Longhorn TIES is housed within New Student Services.
For more information, see Working with Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
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