Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Perceptions of Students with Autism and Their Parents: The College Experience

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Perceptions of Students with Autism and Their Parents: The College Experience

Article excerpt


Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are attending postsecondary programs at unprecedented rates. Transitions are especially challenging for students with ASD, yet little is known about critical transitions during the college experience. Using the College Adjustment Program Evaluation Scales (CAPES), we examined student and parent perspectives across five dimensions: Student Life, Emotional Adjustment, Independent Living Skills, Interpersonal Relationships, and Self-Advocacy. Sixteen participants--eight students and eight parents, completed the CAPES at the end of fall semester of year one and the end of spring semester year two. Student and parent CAPES ratings were uniformly positive with some differences. We found large effect sizes across dimensions and significant differences in Student Life, Independent Living, and Interpersonal Relationships with parent ratings higher than student ratings. An item analysis revealed specific challenges and skills salient to the results. Implications for supports for students with ASD, higher education practices, and transition research are discussed.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder, transition, college, postsecondary education


The purpose of postsecondary education (PSE) and the pathways to it are multifaceted. Postsecondary/higher education in the U.S. has evolved across time (Renn & Reason, 2013), and institutions of higher education have developed empirically-based strategies to serve an increasingly diverse student population and improve the first year experience of students (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Whether or not a student has a disability, the value of PSE to the student and to society are pivotal issues in the current debate over the goal of PSE. Mayhew and colleagues (2016) synthesized over 1,800 studies related to student development during college and report positive long-term effects on cognitive development, critical thinking, academic self-concept, locus of control, independence, self-efficacy, and psychological well-being to name a few. The effects of college on students with disabilities, however, is seldom addressed in the higher education and student affairs literature (Hendrickson, Therrien, Weeden, Pascarella, & Hosp, 2015).

Although research is scant, the studies that are available indicate that PSE opportunities appear to significantly improve the transition to adulthood and long-term life outcomes (e.g., academic skills, employment, quality of life) of youth with disabilities (Hart, Grigal, & Weir, 2010; Neubert & Redd, 2008). Preliminary psychological wellbeing data indicate that students with ASD and cognitive disabilities and their typical college counterparts are similarly affected by college (Hendrickson, Vander Busard, Rodgers, & Scheidecker, 2013). Hendrickson et al. (2015) compared a national sample of first year college students with and without cognitive disabilities on student engagement and their perceptions of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, the campus environment, and educationally enriching experiences. They found that students with intellectual disabilities who attended a structured, inclusive, campus-based program did not differ significantly from typical college students in their responses to the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE; Pascarella, Seifert, & Blaich, 2010). McGregor and colleagues (2016) report that college students with learning disabilities (LD) were less satisfied with their college experience than other students, had more obstacles caused by nonacademic responsibilities, and felt that there was a bias against individuals with disabilities. McGregor and colleagues' data showed that students with LD who sought and received accommodations were in more frequent contact with faculty and experienced less difficulty with assignments than peers with LD who did not. …

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