by Jessica Wilkinson
April is Autism Awareness month. It is a time to educate others about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a brain disorder that is categorized by difficulty with social interaction and repetitive behaviors. Because the amount of people with ASD has risen significantly over the past twenty years it is important that we learn more about it. The more we learn about the behaviors of individuals with ASD, no matter their age, the more accepting we can become.
When we talk about ASD we usually focus on raising children with autism, but what about older individuals? A large portion of children have been diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (HFASD). This means that they can function without significant intellectual impairment. Although HFASD is a diagnosis usually given to children, it does continue into adulthood.
Many young adults with HFASD aim to attend college. They are verbally competent and as smart as their peers, sometimes extremely gifted. Have they been successful with their goals of higher education? Are they accepted by their peers?
Getting accepted into college or remaining enrolled is very difficult for an individual with ASD. They must choose a school that is committed to serving people with a range of disabilities. Students with HFASD need support not only academically but socially. It has been found that these students feel socially isolated and even singled out because of their differences. Intellectually they are ready for higher education but they lack the necessary social skills and have difficulty living without supervision. This results in exclusion and could lead to an increase in aggressive behavior.
A study was conducted to assess the openness of college students towards common ASD characteristics. Engineering students were found to be the most accepting because of their own introverted characteristics. Physical science students were found to have the highest inclination of spending their free time with ASD students because they believed the person to be likeable and of equal intelligence. However, the rest of the student population found peers with ASD characteristics odd and off-putting.
In their article about Autism, Rose Nevill and Susan White suggest a way to improve the acceptance of ASD college students. “Since the 1970s, the Autism Society of America has celebrated April as Autism Awareness month, with the primary goal of educating the public on this disorder and the issues it currently faces with the community. University student organizations could use this month to provide increased information to student bodies on ASD and its increased prevalence. This provision of explanatory information on ASD to students on college campuses can help decrease negative evaluations and promote peer acceptance” (Nevill, 1626).
Raising awareness about Autism is key, especially for young adults attending college. You can show support by reading and sharing articles, using hashtags, painting your nails blue, dying your hair or installing blue light bulbs. Together, we can make a better learning environment for college aged students diagnosed with ASD or HFASD.
Nevill, Rose, and Susan White. “College Students’ Openness Toward Autism Spectrum Disorders: Improving Peer Acceptance.” Journal Of Autism & Developmental Disorders 41.12 (2011): 1619-1628. CINAHL Complete. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.
VanBergeijk, E, A Klin, and F Volkmar. “Supporting More Able Students On The Autism Spectrum: College And Beyond.” Journal Of Autism & Developmental Disorders 38.7 (2008): 1359-1370. CINAHL Complete. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.
White, Susan W., Thomas H. Ollendick, and Bethany C. Bray. “College Students on the Autism Spectrum.” Sage Publications 15.6 (2011): 683-701. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.