Going to College with Autism [Colleyville Texas Autism Charity]

Last year at Max’s 7th grade ARD meeting, (meeting where educators and parents discuss and strategically plan the education plan for the child with special needs) they asked him what he would like to do when he left high school.  He replied “well NFL, obviously.”  The special education lady looked doubtful and asked what his back up plans were should he NOT become an NFL player and he said “fine, I’ll just be an engineer.”  I found this exchange amusing and intriguing.  His back up plan was that he would like to study engineering and we’re already trying to prepare him to think about becoming part of the workforce.  At the time I thought it seemed very early to do but now I realize it’s amazingly forward thinking because trying to prepare kids on the autism spectrum for college involves a lot more than their neurotypical peers.

Check out this fantastic article we found, which is written from the perspective of 21 year old Vassar junior Zoe Gross.  She describes the transition to college is so much more complex for people with autism, the LEAST of it being, in her opinion, the social issues.  She explains that managing the independent aspects of life at college like living in a dorm/apartment, scheduling homework and assignments, making sure she eats properly, showers regularly are FAR more critical than even thinking about making friends.

People with autism often have impaired executive functioning which affects their daily life in a way their peers haven’t thought about it years.  One girl describes how she was hit by a car TWICE in college.  On one of the days she describes being completely overwhelmed with her emotions after getting into an argument, along with the noise and the crowds and she experienced tunnel vision and didn’t even see the car coming until it hit her.  This one particularly scares me as I see this happening with Max.  Just this morning I dropped him at school, not in the drop off lane for a change and watched as he crossed the road IN FRONT of a car that he simply hadn’t noticed!  I find we constantly have to go over  safety issues with him that most 10 year olds have mastered. Then I’m supposed to just send him off to college or let him get a drivers license??????  I can’t even imagine!!!

Apparently over the next 5 years, an estimated 200,000 teenagers on the autism spectrum will be aging out of the services they currently receive in the public school system.  Many of them could be seemingly high functioning but have invisible disabilities that will become highlighted when they go off to college on their own without a parent or caregiver looking out for them.  How will the college system and the newly created adults themselves cope with this huge number of people who need more consideration when trying to immerse them into their next stage of life? I have no answers at all yet sadly. It’s something I will have to think about over the next few years and try to be proactive in the mean time.

Enjoy the article and feel free to send any of your own experiences for us to learn from!

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