Ten Questions to Ask: When Exploring Post Secondary Educational Options for Students on the Autism Spectrum

Article excerpt

Deciding what to do after high school is a daunting task for any young person, but for students on the autism spectrum, the thought can be paralyzing. Additional questions need to be asked and answered to insure a goodness of fit between the student's strengths, goals, and weaknesses and a post secondary educational program's strengths, goals, and weaknesses. Below are 10 questions students on the autism spectrum need to ask program administrators before deciding to enroll in a college degree, vocational or independent living skills program.

1. What does a student receive when he or she completes the program?

Graduates will receive either a degree or a certificate of completion. Degree programs allow students to apply for federally guaranteed student loans and grants. Students in these programs must complete Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) applications. Students in certificate programs, on the other hand, must apply for continuing education loans through a private bank or lender.

2. Is the program accredited and by whom?

Reputable college programs are accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Do not attend a Bachelor's degree program that has not been accredited by Middle States Commission. The degree will not be recognized as legitimate. Vocational and Independent Living Programs may be accredited by other agencies such as state offices of vocational rehabilitative services or other social service entities.

3. How is the program funded?

This simple question will also give you an idea of the agencies that give the program legitimacy. Degree programs that have students using FAFSA loans are endorsed, at least implicitly, by the federal government. State offices of developmental disability services or vocational rehabilitative services may pay for some vocational and independent living programs. Local school districts may also fund students' attendance in these latter two types of programs through Individualized Education Program (I.E.P.) Transition Plans.

4. What are the credentials of the program's administrative, teaching and service delivery staff?

Ideally, these professionals should have the highest degrees and licenses possible in their respective fields and in the area of autism spectrum disorders.

5. What special training, if any, does the program staff receive on ASDs?

Not only should the staff have training in intervention techniques with this population, but also other information that is important in educating these students. This information should include co-morbid psychiatric disorders, medications and their effects, and the diversity of this population. Since many of these students have other medical issues, training in CPR, first aid, and the use of automatic external defibrillator devices is warranted.

6. What are the staffing ratios?

In a college program the faculty to student ratio can be as high as 1:600 in introductory classes held in large lecture halls. College Disabled Student Services Offices frequently have caseloads of one counselor to 350 learning-disabled students. Vocational and independent living skills programs will generally have much lower ratios.

7. How much flexibility is inherent in the program?

Students in post secondary education often change their minds regarding college majors, which ultimately affects their career trajectory. …