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Why Do So Many Students With Autism Drop Out Of College? 

Why Do So Many Students With Autism Drop Out Of College? 

Your child on the autism spectrum just graduated high school, or even the post-secondary program your district provided. But now, after years of accessibility to local resources, you feel lost as to the next step.

A growing number of students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are applying to and attending college, yet only 41 percent of students with a disability graduate with a degree. This is compared to 59 percent when the student is not diagnosed with a disability. They have the intelligence and the drive – so why do so many students with autism drop out of college?

These statistics may leave you, as a parent, wondering if college is actually the right next step for your child. Knowing some of these challenges students with ASD tend to face in the university setting can help you prepare your child to have the most successful experience.

  1. Executive Functioning Challenges

Many people on the autism spectrum, and especially those who are also diagnosed with ADHD, struggle with executive functioning skills. High executive functioning skills allow a student to prioritize assignments, break assignments down into manageable parts, and complete work on time. 

In a high school special education setting, the IEP (individualized education plan) likely included teacher support in the planning of long-term assignments. In the college setting, one in which long-term assignments are the norm, students are not given as many resources and are less likely to be regularly reminded of due dates. Their success on the assignment will come down to the student’s actions, including finding ways to stay organized and utilizing the college’s services for students with disabilities.

  1. A Lack of Support Compared to High School

Students with ASD often have an IEP in high school that lets the teacher know accommodations they require and supports that would help them succeed in class. Sometimes, this is in addition to a wraparound aide that gives one-on-one assistance to your child. And, they come home each day to you, who might even keep track of all their assignments and due dates.

Suddenly, in college, a student must advocate for themselves. The IEP no longer holds value, and all accommodations must be granted based on student request. Numerous colleges have centers that provide services and support for students with disabilities, but the student must report there on their own. Support their transition by helping them practice advocating for themselves regularly.

  1. Mental Health Struggles

Since students with ASD often struggle with making friends and maintaining friendships, they can experience isolation and loneliness when living away from home. They are navigating an entirely new social world, which can be difficult for any new student. 

If they are not experiencing success academically, this can add to the increasing negative emotions. 

Colleges do offer mental health resources such as counseling, which students with autism have been shown to benefit from over time and help motivate them to stay enrolled.

  1. Environmental Factors

A final challenge students on the autism spectrum face, but is often not discussed, is the change in environment when attending a college. The dining halls are at times crowded and noisy, with bright lights and complex social structures, like waiting in lines and paying in a specific location. 

Add this to life in a dorm, with roommates, parties down the hall, and crowded elevators. The life of a college student can be incredibly overstimulating. In this situation, students would benefit from practice with tools and planning strategies to avoid sensory overload. Finding quiet places to study or take routine breaks would be ideal.

  1. What Your Child Can Do To Complete Their Degree

Yes, students with ASD face a number of challenges. Yet, you have also seen them accomplish goals you at one time never thought possible. At this point, they have been equipped with tools through constantly improving resources for students with autism. They have been working on growing both their independence and interdependence skills. Your young adult likely already has exactly what they need to succeed.

Students struggling in the college setting is also what motivated Gersh Autism to offer Gersh Experience. Gersh Experience offers a residential program to young adults on the autism spectrum that supports them through earning a college degree. It provides academic guidance and counseling with both group and one-on-one support as they complete their coursework. For more information, feel free to reach out here