The Social Experiences of College Students on the Autism Spectrum

The Social Experiences of College Students on the Autism Spectrum

Kate Altman (Wissahickon Charter School, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0816-8.ch003


As children on the autism spectrum age out of the K-12 system, many will go on to attend college. Often, they are intellectually capable and academically prepared for the college curriculum, but struggle when faced with the new social challenges posed by their new school setting and young adulthood in general. This book chapter offers information about the social experiences of college students with ASD, gleaned from a qualitative, phenomenological study using semi-structured interviews with college students on the spectrum. The results offer insights that are interesting and informative for prospective and current college students and their parents, educators at the high school and college level, and college staff working with students with ASD. Results of the study revealed some common themes, such as: the participants reported feeling socially accepted at college and have made friendships, college has had a positive impact on self-esteem; use of individual counseling and ASD support groups improve socialization.
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Autism is a pervasive brain disorder with developmental and behavioral effects that include a language delay, limited social interaction, and impairments in socialization and communication (Bishop, et al., 2004; Frith, 1991; Tantam, 1991). Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong condition, yet most of the treatment, services, and research offered center on children (Howlin, Goode, Hutton, & Rutter, 2004; Tantam, 1991). However, even with treatment, young adults with ASD continue to display symptoms and behavior that impact social functioning and may make it difficult for them to succeed socially. Understanding presentation of symptoms and their impact in adolescence and adulthood is important, as ASD symptoms, “may cause the greatest disablement in adolescence and young adulthood, when successful social relationships are the key to almost every achievement” (Tantam, 1991, p. 148).

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