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Post Secondary Education
Many individuals on the spectrum are able to continue their education by attending post secondary schools. A misconception that many hold is that post-secondary education includes only 4-year universities and colleges. Therefore, it is important to explain the category of post-secondary education and all that it encompasses. Post-secondary education encompasses 4-year universities, 2-year colleges that offer associates’ degrees, vocational schools, and adult education. Adult education classes are courses typically offered through the community and are non-degree oriented.
To have a successful post-secondary educational experience, individuals on the autism spectrum must be able to articulate accommodation needs when communicating with universities, disability services, and/ or with other entities. It is important to give yourself plenty of time when planning for your educational options after high school. The sooner you start planning the better. Listed below are things to consider when deciding what type of post secondary schools you should consider.
The Transfer of Responsibilities
For students with a disability, there are several differences between high school and post secondary schools (see graph below). In high school the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) governs where the responsibility lies for insuring the issues on the left are implemented. In contrast, after high school, under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), the student with a disability assumes all of the responsibilities to insure these topics are addressed.
|Issue||High School (IDEA)||College (ADA)|
|Identifying students with disabilities||School System||Student must initiate|
|Requesting services||School and Parent||Student|
|Obtaining disability documentation & establishing need for accommodation||School||Student|
|Advocating to obtain services||Parent and Student||Student|
|Deciding what courses to take||Student and Parent/Advocate/IEP Team||Student|
During post secondary education, the role of the parent or advocate changes due to federal privacy laws such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Often times when students have received services in high school, parents or advocates have been very involved in the process. Depending on guardianship status, if parents/advocates want to communicate with post secondary personnel and be part of the process, permission must be granted by the student. Likewise, if you would like your school to be able to discuss grades, classes, etc. with your parents or another advocate, a consent form must be submitted. Whether utilizing the help of carers, advocates, or parents, you must work together to decide who will advocate and how much. As a young adult, you can decide the level of support you need from those around you.
When choosing to be a self-advocate, you must fully understand your needs, know your learning style, know which accommodations work for you, and be able to effectively communicate your needs to school personnel. You can always work with an advocate to help you prepare documents to help clearly express your needs while at school.
Click Here to learn more about the difference in services from high school to college. Though this is a site for individual who have an intellectual disability, which may or may not apply to you, the explanation for services is thorough.
Requesting Services and Accommodations
Students who request services and accommodations must disclose the nature of their disability and provide appropriate documentation to the office responsible for disability services. This disclosure is considered confidential and is released with the student’s consent on a “need to know” basis.
Documentation provided to the disability service office must be current and must fulfill the institution’s documentation guidelines. The definition of “current” is determined by each institution. Check with the department for disability services for guidelines before you apply for accommodations.
Ask the school for a renewed evaluation and diagnosis before the individual graduates or ages out of school. This is a free service through the schools and will be quite expensive after exiting the system. It is very important that as a student is nearing transition and the opportunity exists for a re-evaluation of their eligibility for services at the high school that you take into account the need for current documentation. It is important that the documentation list a specific diagnosis. It needs to be stated in writing how the disability impacts the student’s academic performance, as well as the appropriate accommodations for college and how it limits a major life activity. The documentation needs to be completed by a qualified diagnostician.
When asking for accommodations. Ask for every accommodation you think you may ever need as a part of your academic career. Here is a listing of a few accommodations you can ask for if appropriate:
- extended test time
- a quiet room to take tests
- extensions for papers
- ability to work independently rather than in groups
- use of and iPod during testing
- large print books
- note takers
- tardiness or absence forgiveness
- audio books
- use of an elevator
- specialized computer software
- test scribes
- priority registration
- course substitutions
- the use of a computer instead of hand written in-class essays
- extra breaks during tests
Once the documentation is received, the school will evaluate the requests and notify the student of their decision. Some institutions require an interview as a part of the process. Check with your school for the specifics in their process for receiving accommodations. Appropriate and reasonable requests are granted. Instructors are then notified of the approved accommodations. It is up to the student to talk with each instructor each semester directly about implementing accommodations in their course. Once the school has approved the accommodations, professors CANNOT refuse to accommodate you. They also must keep this information confidential.
Many post secondary schools and training programs provide auxiliary aids, accommodations, and support services that enhance the educational experience of students with autism and other disabilities. It is essential that students take ownership for their accommodation needs and understand their educational responsibilities. When speaking with the office or department that organizes support services, it is important to understand what services and supports are routinely offered. It is also important to realize that many post secondary institutions are just beginning to meet the needs of people with autism spectrum disorders. Therefore, it is also crucial to thoroughly understand and clearly communicate your needed supports for attending post secondary education.
You might require a support that is typically not offered. This does not mean that the post secondary program cannot help meet your needs, but it is also no guarantee that all of your needs will be met. The better you understand your support needs and can articulate them, the more likely you will be to have a respectful conversation and negotiation process. Here are some questions and tips that you may find helpful when meeting with disability service staff:
- Is pre-registration, registration assistance, or priority class registration available?
- Is there flexibility in scheduling classes?
- Is there flexibility in course requirements such as class substitution or waivers if a student’s disability impairs his/her ability to take a particular required course?
- Is extended time available for taking exams, doing term papers, and completing other assignments? In addition, are time extensions allowed for completion of the entire course or class?
- Is there a special orientation for new students?
- Is job/career placement support available after program completion? Are the placement services targeted for students with autism spectrum disorders and other disabilities?
- Are readers, books on tape, classroom note takers or transcriptions available?
- Are interpreter services available?
- Are there tutors to assist with ongoing class work?
- Are adaptive technologies such as assisted listening devices and talking computers available?
- What office or department is responsible for supporting students with autism spectrum disorders and other disabilities? What types of supports are available through this program?
- Are there mentorship or apprenticeship programs available?
- If you are looking for physical accessibility, ask for a full tour to see for yourself that the school is accessible.
- Ask for what you need and if the school is not responsive, ask an advocate for assistance. If the school is still not responsive, ask for representation from a legal professional, local advocacy organization, or if you have one, your state coordinator.
Choosing a Course of Study
Before choosing a college or other post secondary programs to attend, there are questions you should ask yourself about what you want to study and/or what major you want to pursue. Some individuals with autism spectrum disorders have intense interests and strengths that make the selection of an area of study very easy, while others may have to think a little deeper. Your choice of a major or course of study may help to pinpoint the type of school you want to attend. There are two and four-year programs as well as technical and specialized training schools available depending on the program/major chosen. Some questions to ask yourself may be:
- What are your interests and strengths?
- In what field do you envision yourself working?
- Is there an entrance exam you must pass before being admitted to the school or program?
- What are the entrance requirements for the programs that interest you?
- How many courses/credits are required to complete the major/program to receive a degree/certificate?
- On average, how long does it take to complete the program?
- What classes/courses (if any) are all students required to take regardless of their major/program?
- Are advanced students allowed to “test out” of basic classes?
- Are there supports offered to students who need to take remedial classes?
Where to Live
Deciding where to live is another aspect that must be considered when considering post-secondary education. Whether living at home, on campus, or in your own house/apartment (with or without a roommate), all appropriate options should be explored. Is living at home most important, or is living away from home a goal? If social activities and meeting other students are important to you, then living on campus or in a dorm may be best. If you are considering moving from home for the first time, you must also consider any assistance you may need to live a healthy and independent life such as medication management, safety, laundry, eating habits, and ensuring you have resources in case you become upset or need assistance. Listed below are some things to consider before choosing a post secondary school:
- Do you want to move away from home?
- If so, how far do you want to move?
- How often will you want to go home? If you go out of state or a long ways away, will it bother you to only come home on holiday/school breaks?
- If you are commuting, how far will you have to travel daily?
- Do you have the supports (i.e. finances, transportation) to allow for a commute?
- If you do choose to move away from home, what supports will you need?
- Do you want a roommate? If so, what are the reasons (i.e. financially, socially or for other reasons)?
- Do you need/prefer meals to be prepared for you versus meals being prepared by you?
- How and where will your laundry be done?
- Is your housing close enough to your classes?
- Do you want to live where there are planned activities for students to do together?
- Do you want to live where there are rules such as curfews, and visiting hours for guests?
Campus and Community Life
The size and location of the campus you are going to attend is something to think about. Choosing the size of the school that you wish to attend is an individual choice. While some people prefer smaller schools where it is possible to know everyone, others may prefer the variety that a larger school offers. Some questions to ask yourself about campus size may be:
- How many students are enrolled at the school?
- How many students live on campus and how many commute?
- What is the average class size?
- Are the buildings on campus large with many floors or are they smaller one and two story buildings?
- What kind of atmosphere are you looking for (e.g. a place where you can hide in the crowd or someplace where there is more individualized attention)?
Many people feel comfortable in a community that feels comfortable. Choosing a school that offers a comfortable atmosphere is also important. Some questions you may want to ask yourself about campus community may be:
- What types of recreational activities and entertainment are offered on campus? In the community?
- Are there clubs, activities, study groups or other organizations on campus that are developed around a particular interest?
- What transportation is offered on campus? In the community?
- How long is the average walk to class?
- How safe is the campus and the community it is in?
- Is student parking for bikes and cars easy to access?
Getting Prepared – Specifically for 4-Year Universities: Tests
For individuals seeking admission to a 4-year school. The entrance exam and national test must be considered. Many schools still require scores from the American College Test (ACT) or the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) as admission criteria. It is important to know which test scores are preferred by the college that you are interested in attending. Many colleges tend to accept scores from either examination however, there is a tendency for mid-west and southern schools to prefer the ACT with eastern and western schools preferring the SAT. If a school states a preference for one test over the other, it does not mean that the other test is not acceptable.
One way to practice for these exams is by taking the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT). This test is typically given to sophomores in high school. The purpose of the PSAT is to offer students an opportunity to practice these exams so they know what to expect and what they need to work on. The PSAT is shorter, at only 2 hours long, but it covers the same subject areas as the other tests. Taking the PSAT as a sophomore is good planning for achieving your post secondary goals.
You can check with guidance counselors at school to get the schedule of where and when the tests will be administered and what you will need to do to register. If you need accommodations to take these tests, they should be provided. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, if you receive accommodations to take tests throughout the typical school year (e.g., extended time, alternative format), then you are entitled to have similar accommodations on these exams. Check with a guidance counselor to help ensure that you are receiving the support that you are entitled to receive.
Click Here to learn more about standardized tests.
Finances are often a major factor when choosing post-secondary education. Colleges, universities, and post secondary programs are continually getting more expensive. It is important to consider your future profession as well as your ability to pay any loans necessary to attend the school of your choice. If finances are a concern, vocational school or a two-year college can be less expensive options. On-campus housing is typically not an option for two-year and vocational schools.
Overall, it is important to plan in advance if you will require financial aid. You may not need financial aid for tuition or even housing. However, you may need a specific type of support that the disability services office for the school cannot fund at 100%. Therefore, you may need to have financial support to have the best educational situation possible. There are many scholarship opportunities available, especially for diverse learners. When considering financial expenses associated with post secondary education, some questions that you might want to ask yourself are as follows:
- Are finances a primary consideration when I think about Post Secondary education?
- Will I need to take out a loan to cover educational expenses?
- Am I on the Medicaid Waiver? Will my Waiver pay for any of my expenses?
- Am I eligible for the Medicaid Waiver? How long is the waiting list for the Medicaid Waiver? Please note that if you are looking at the Medicaid Waiver as an option to defray costs, you should apply no later than the persons 14th birthday due to waiting lists.
- Will Vocational Rehabilitation be willing to support a part of my education? If so, what are their terms?
- What scholarships are available? Please note, many scholarships have certain criteria (e.g., certain score on ACT or SAT, certain grade point average). Therefore, you may want to be knowledgeable about the criteria while going through high school.
- Is there a financial aid office affiliated with the program you are considering? If so, what financial assistance is offered through the financial aid office?
There are many opportunities for educational assistance for individuals who have been diagnosed with autism. See the links below for more information.
Resource: Wheeler, M. (2000). The road to post-secondary education: Questions to consider. The Reporter, 5(2), 3.
Think College! – If you have been diagnosed with an intellectual disability, this website offers a good deal of information on attending college, accommodations, financial aid, and more.