Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

College Students with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: Best Practices for Successful Transition to the World of Work

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

College Students with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: Best Practices for Successful Transition to the World of Work

Article excerpt

The transition from college to work is a challenging time for students with autism spectrum disorder. College counselors who understand the challenges students face adjusting to the world of work can position themselves to be change agents for this population. This article illuminates the challenges facing these students to help close the knowledge gap of their career development trajectory. Strategies and best practices to guide these students through successful transition to the world of work are provided.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder, college students, transition to employment, college-to-work transition


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was found to occur in one in 10,000 individuals in the 1980s (Autism Science Foundation, 2012). Thirty years later, the estimates of prevalence for ASD changed to one in 88 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). With the recent changes in the American Psychiatric Association's (APA; 2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), Asperger's disorder has been absorbed into the ASD continuum. Individuals with a well-established diagnosis of Asperger's disorder according to the DSM Fourth Edition, Text Revision (APA, 2000) should be given the diagnosis of Level 1 ASD according to the DSM-5 (APA, 2013). Throughout this article, Asperger's disorder is identified and discussed as Level 1 ASD, based on the new conceptualization that the Level 1 severity reflects the highest level of functioning in the ASD continuum (APA, 2013). Individuals with ASD have characteristic impairments in the areas of communication, behavior, and social interaction and may demonstrate unusual or repetitive patterns of behavior (Hendricks, Wehman, & Wehman, 2009).

Consequently, coping with ASD symptomatology can result in functional disturbance in personal, social, and occupational roles (APA, 2013). Enhanced and individualized services have improved functioning for students with ASD, and many are choosing college as a post-high school option (Grandin & Duffy, 2008; Roberts, 2010). Hence, an influx of these students are entering higher education and residing on college campuses more than ever before (Smith, 2007). In a typical university of about 10,000 students, experts indicate that at least 100 students have Level 1 ASD (Brown & DiGaldo, 2011). With continued visibility, along with refined knowledge and services, it is estimated that the number of students with Level 1 ASD attending higher education settings will continue to rise (Brown & DiGaldo, 2011).

The purpose of this article is to illuminate the challenges of college-to-work transition faced by college students with Level 1 ASD and to provide college counselors with targeted strategies to aid in these students' career development. The article provides college counselors with necessary information to assist students with Level 1 ASD in making a successful transition to the world of work. Foundational information about this population is provided, along with enhanced strategies that can be used in the areas of social skills, executive functioning, career development, self-knowledge and advocacy, and work-life balance.

Students With ASD in Higher Education

Historically, many educators had to be persuaded that students with learning disabilities could go to college (Dipeolu & Cook, 2006). Student disability centers are staffed with disability experts who work closely with students with a variety of disabilities. College professionals are accustomed to providing assistance to students with physical, cognitive, and sensory needs; however, they are less accustomed to working with students who have accompanying significant social deficits (Fast, 2004). Higher education institutions are trailing behind in providing help to students with Level 1 ASD for myriad reasons (Hendricks et al., 2009). College counselors may not feel well prepared in addressing the neurotypical needs of these students in the areas of social and executive functioning. …

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