An exterior image of Dean Hall on the Dean College campus, a great college for autistic students

Students thriving on the autism spectrum often encounter some issues that lead to the need for additional support while in college. This makes finding colleges for autistic students that much more important. Things like communicating properly and staying organized when faced with multiple class assignments usually come easy to neurotypical students, but not those on the spectrum. Because of this, colleges need to have plans, assistance, and additional support in place in order to help these students succeed.

Prepare Their IEP

An IEP, also known as an Individualized Education Program, is something that every student with autism must possess. These plans get updated every year and contain plenty of information about the student and the types of support they need in order to succeed in school. When you begin looking into colleges for autistic students, you must inform your student’s high school guidance counselor, so they can prepare their IEP. Some schools may ask about the IEP before they officially admit your student, just to ensure that they can meet their needs. In addition, it’s better if you get started on this early, even several years before graduation, just to give the guidance counselors, assistants, and everyone else plenty of time to update the IEP and look into the schools that may be the best fit for your student.

Find a School that Offers the Right Supports

While it’s against the law to discriminate against students with any disability, this doesn’t mean that every school is created equal when it comes to their autistic program capabilities. When looking into colleges in your area (or outside your area), depending on where your high schooler wants to go, ask to speak to someone in their Office of Accessibility. The staffers in these offices are usually prepared to assist students with various handicaps, from those with visual and hearing impairments to conditions like ADHD and autism. However, some schools may have more supports and staff members experienced in one of these areas than another. You don’t want to send your student who’s on the spectrum to a school that doesn’t have any experience with their specific issues. Instead, do plenty of research and find a school with the right amount of support, so your student can learn, grow, and thrive. At Dean College, the Morton Family Learning Center is staffed with professional and academic coaches who can help guide and grow students on the spectrum. Their accessibility services are designed specifically to help students with autism succeed.  

What to Expect from Learner Support Services

These departments have numerous tutors on staff who can help students with their homework and provide assistance by answering questions, demonstrating skills, and more. Staff members can also help with communication and organization skills, depending on your student’s needs. Some neurotypical students might be hired as notetakers for students on the spectrum, and special programs that focus on academic coaching are often available for an additional fee as well. All these supports will help your student successfully complete each essential year of their college career, so it’s important that you find a school that offers them the most assistance. In addition, some schools, like Dean College offer a special program aimed at assisting students who need extra support. One of their programs, run through the Arch Learning Community, consists of a special first-semester course load for students who need additional help adjusting to college-level classes. These courses include a general elective, as well as one course in the student’s major field, among others.  

Students on the autism spectrum can graduate from college, enter the workplace, and lead a successful life, as long as the right help is available and obtained. It all starts with finding a college from your autistic student that has an inclusive atmosphere and plenty of programming in place to help those with IEPs find their place on campus as they transition from high school into college life. 

Learn more about Dean College's Arch Learning Community.