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Practical Tips for Preparing Autistic Children for College - sharing my work experience

Updated on August 17, 2011

How are you preparing your child or tutoring young adolescents with ASD for college?

As per my experience in designing automated learning tools and customized environments for children with ASD, I have found that they have a desire for knowledge, academic achievement and a chance to prove their intellectual ability. I realize going through college is not easy for most students, it wasn't for me, but those with ASD will have greater difficulties adapting to new routines and expectations, the requirements to become more financially and emotionally independent, and with the organizational aspects of completing assignments. College is also a new social environment and the student with ASD will be expected to work in a student team for some assignments, make new friends and develop a greater sense of self-identity and direction in life.

I know how taxing it can be!
I know how taxing it can be!

Practical diagnosis of ASD

While working as an engineer for designing special tools that improve in-class communication between students, I had to undergo extensive coaching and training for interacting with autistic children. This was necessary because I needed objective feedback from these autistic children on the effectiveness of the electronics tools that were installed in classrooms as learning aids. Let me share a few points on ASD diagnostics that I learned from clinical experts so that you can judge how prepared an autistic student is for independent college education.

1) Impairments in social relatedness including deficits in any of these four primary areas:

  • Nonverbal communication (eg. eye contact, reading nonverbal cues)
  • peer interaction (does not develop appropriate peer relationship as per the stage)
  • joint attention (does not point out objects of interest)
  • emotional reciprocity

2) Impairments in communication in play including deficits in any of four primary areas:

  • delays or lack of language development
  • inability to sustain conversation
  • repetitive language use
  • lack of social imitative play

3) Restricted and repetitive interests or activities:

  • preoccupations and interests that are abnormal in intensity
  • inflexible fixation on non-functional routines
  • motor based repetition (hand/finger flapping or flicking, complex body movements)
  • preoccupation with only parts of objects

If these symptoms exist in high intensity then the student will need further preparation before deciding on enrolling for college education.


Myths about Autism

  • People with ASD are unable to be empathic.
  • People with ASD are not affectionate, they have lower levels of attachment.
  • People with ASD are aloof, have no interest in others.
  • People with ASD cannot distinguish between non-intimate and intimate relationships.
  • People with ASD cannot have intimate relationships.

Practical tips for preparing students with ASD

I cannot overemphasize the importance of ensuring that students are relatively proficient in pragmatic communication. Here are the skills that need to be focused on:

  • Knowing that you have to answer when a question has been asked. This skill involves also knowing how to ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question, are confused, or there’s a communication breakdown.
  • Being able to participate in a conversation by taking turns with the other speaker. This involves recognizing when the other speaker has finished talking and, if unsure, asking the speaker if he or she has finished. It also requires the individual to appreciate and understand the purpose of sharing information (related to joint attention).
  • Noticing and responding appropriately to the nonverbal aspects of language.
  • Knowing that you have to introduce a topic of conversation in order for the listener to understand fully what you will be talking about, and that you have to check for understanding throughout your conversations.
  • Knowing which words or what sort of sentence-type to use when initiating a conversation or responding to something someone has said.
  • Knowing how to end a conversation appropriately.
  • Knowing how to ask for clarification when you don’t understand something.
  • Knowing how to provide clarification so that the listener understands you: this includes being able to “read” the listener’s facial expression to know if the listener is following you.
  • Knowing the importance of staying on topic, and being able to do so.
  • Maintaining appropriate eye contact (not too much staring, and not too much looking away) during a conversation. Being able to distinguish how to talk and behave towards different communication partners.

A few observations on students with ASD

As I said before, I got to work with college-level students with ASD to get their feedback on electronic aids that my company had designed for special classes. It was surprising to see that children with ASD who were given the proper pre-college tutoring by the parents and mentors behaved very similar to regular students. They did engage in classroom discussions and were quire responsive, however I did notice a few characteristics that set them apart, in a good way:

  • Students with ASD were extremely honest, almost to a fault. If they were attracted to someone, they are likely to let that person know in an awkwardly straightforward way, and usually in a manner that feels like it’s too soon for normal social convention.

Personal anecdote - During one of the sessions in a college where I was sent to explain e-learning boards, a 17 year old girl walked up to me during the lunch break and told me I resembled one of her cousins and invited me to her tea-party with her friends. This was just after a 30 minute class!

  • I did see a slightly longer learning curve for students enrolled in college-level mathematics classes. Once they were committed to something, they remained very committed. That's one reason I think they'll make excellent employees!

I hope you found this hub and my experience helpful.

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