Support Services for Students with Asperger's Syndrome in Higher Education

By Smith, Caroline P. | College Student Journal, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Support Services for Students with Asperger's Syndrome in Higher Education


Smith, Caroline P., College Student Journal


The study examines the following research question: What are the needs of students with Asperger's Syndrome (AS), and what are the services and accommodations available to them at the post-secondary level? An increasing number of individuals diagnosed with AS are entering institutions of higher education. This study is exploratory in nature, hoping to discover in what ways institutions can better accommodate and serve this population. The research project uses quantitative and qualitative research methods to analyze data. A random sample of postsecondary institutions that are members of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) were surveyed. The study is designed to assist Disability Support offices in expanding their knowledge and services for those students with AS.

Introduction and Background

Asperger's Syndrome is one of five disorders encompassed in an overarching diagnostic area, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) often considered a high functioning form of autism. Asperger's Syndrome is defined by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV of Mental Disorders as a person who portrays four of five listed criteria, including two indicators of a qualitative disability in social interaction and one indicator in the category of restricted interests and stereotyped behaviors (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). The criteria in the DSM-IV for diagnoses of AS are as follows:

"Qualitative impairment in social interaction involving some or all of the following: impaired use of nonverbal behaviors to regulate social interaction, failure to develop age-appropriate peer relationships, lack of spontaneous interest in sharing experiences with others, and lack of social or emotional reciprocity. Restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities involving: preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted pattern of interest, inflexible adherence to specific nonfunctional routines or rituals, stereotyped or repetitive motor mannerisms, or preoccupation with parts of objects" (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 75).

Lord (2000) explains Asperger's Syndrome as "a developmental disorder falling within the autistic spectrum affecting two-way social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and a reluctance to accept change, inflexibility of thought and to have all absorbing narrow area of interest."

Autism was first identified in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner, a child psychiatrist at John Hopkins University in Baltimore (Ozonoff, Dawson, & McPartland, 2002). In the most severe cases, Kanner's description of autism came from his interaction with "11 children who showed little interest in other people, insisted on routines, and displayed unusual body movements, like flapping their hands. Many of the children could talk ... however they rarely used their speech to communicate with others. The children had a variety of learning problems in addition to their unusual behaviors" (Ozonoff et al., 2002, p. 5). Milder forms of autism, high functioning autism, were also observed. High functioning autism is diagnosed when the autistic characteristics such as conceptual thinking, unusual behaviors and difficulty with communication are in milder form. This is often diagnosed as Asperger's Syndrome (AS).

One year later, Dr. Hans Asperger first described AS in 1944. Asperger was unaware of Kanner's work with autism, but he was only describing the cases in which the children with autistic tendencies had milder cases of autism. Asperger's work was published in German during World War II, and unfortunately it was not widely read. AS was virtually unknown in the US until the work of Dr. Lorna Wing in 1981 (Ozonoffet et al., 2002). In this sense, AS is actually only 20 years old in the US and did not appear in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders until version IV (1994) of the manual was published (Farrell, 2004). …

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