College Autism and Accessibility Support

Farah Weheba
Farah Weheba

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This is the second article in a series aimed to empower neurodivergent and differently-abled students to prepare for academic success in college. We’re aiming to de-stigmatize mental and medical health differences, and to champion advocacy by highlighting resources. There are college accessibility support resources available to you to mitigate obstacles, and you deserve to thrive. 

Superhero support squad

Everyone’s recommended accommodations look different depending on specific needs. If you need academic accommodations from your college in order to perform in class, on exams, or to access student housing, show up for yourself as advocate of the year. Seek out your accessibility resource center on campus: in other words, the Robin to your Batman.

There, they evaluate your needs, ask for supporting medical documentation, and then issue you an accommodation letter. The letter updates your professors or relevant parties. However, the accessibility office keeps your supporting documents confidential, and only shares the letter. The letter omits details to protect your privacy, only outlining the accommodations recommended for professors to extend to you. 

How does this help me?

Professors must follow the recommendations as outlined in the letter. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the ADA Amendments Act protect students with disabilities. Specifically, these laws require that qualified students, including those with learning differences, must have equal access to an education. For instance, applied Accommodation includes:

  • Assistive technology
  • Sign language interpreters
  • Instructional strategies
  • Extended time to complete degree, assignments, exams, etc. 

Why do resources like the Office of Accessible Education exist? 

Students who are differently abled deserve to thrive and have the legal right to thrive academically just as much as any of their peers. A university holds the obligation to protect student rights by providing reasonable accommodations to make access to education and services on campus equitable. Students maintain the same academic standards, but environmental conditions can be altered. In fact, for more about how these offices operate and interact with students and faculty, see companion blog post Seeking Accessible Education at Stanford

Colleges Offering Top-Notch Accessibility 

While most colleges do have support for autistic students, there are a number of colleges out there that go above and beyond in support for autistic students. Empowerly’s research team has compiled a list of US colleges that have well-known and great quality autistic student and neurodivergent support programs. 

Whittier College 

Whittier as a school remains highly regarded. The Office of Student Disability Services offers a number of services including assisting graduating students’ transition out of Whittier College, a service not offered in many other colleges.

University of Redlands

The college is very thorough in identifying and categorizing exceptionalities. The University of Redlands will provide reasonable accommodations to students with documented disabilities which substantially limit a major life activity. For example, these accommodations may include exam accommodations like a quiet place, or additional time, books on tape, notetakers, and more. 

Landmark College

The entire college focuses on students with learning exceptionalities. This school is devoted to students on the spectrum; however, they do not offer a math degree, only computer science.

One of our Empowerly team members is a professional on the spectrum, and gives Landmark a glowing review. She says colleges like Landmark were not available when she was a student and she remembers having to muddle through. She has spoken to the Director of Admissions at Landmark a few times and believes the staff is very knowledgeable with specific and personalized resources.

The Landmark College Institute for Research and Training conducts groundbreaking research on learning disabilities (LD), ADHD, and ASD. Additionally, Landmark shares that knowledge with educators around the world through webinars, workshops, professional training, and online courses.

Landmark College sees neurodiversity as a strength, demonstrated by their Center for Neurodiversity. They focus on scholarly perspectives that further the appreciation for variation and neurodivergence in society. They uphold the saying “nothing about us without us,” to guide disability advocacy with a community of both neurodivergent and neurotypical people working together.

Drexel University 

Similarly, Drexels is one of colleges well known for its programs offered to students on the spectrum.

The A.J. Drexel Autism Institute is the first research organization built around a public health science approach to understanding and addressing the challenges of autism spectrum disorders. The Autism Institute’s mission is to discover, develop, promote and disseminate population-level and community-based approaches that will prevent autism-associated morbidity and disability, therefore improving the quality of life for individuals with autism of all ages.

Elon University

For Elon, individuals with disabilities make up 10% of the student population. Not only that, but Elon emphasizes creative use of technology for students with disabilities.  

Mercyhurst University

The Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) was actually established to support the vast influx of students on the autism spectrum. In fact, neurodivergent students are applying to Mercyhurst and other universities worldwide in record numbers. It facilitates and supports the successful adjustment and progression of college students on the autism spectrum in all domains of college life, thereby broadening their vocational opportunities. Beyond that, they also focus on enhancing social and community engagement. 

Daemen College

The College Autism Transition Support (CATS) program offers life skills coaching and other transition support to matriculated students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  

They focus on 7 core elements – Critical Thinking and Creative Problem Solving, Information Literacy, Communication Skills, Affective Awareness, Moral and Ethical Discernment, Contextual Integration, and Civic Responsibility.   

Hofstra University

Hofstra’s program for special needs students is called PALS, or Program for Academic Learning Skills. It helps students with learning disabilities or attention deficits by pairing them up with a learning specialist, who will aid them throughout their college career. Individual plans are created for each participant, molded to his or her unique needs, and they work with their specialist for 90 minutes each week. In addition, the school offers study skills workshops and online programs to help students develop skills that will serve them better.  

Misericordia University

One of the best resources for special needs students at Misericordia is the Alternative Learners Project (ALP). It aims to provide comprehensive on-campus support to students with learning disabilities, serving more than 60 each year. In their first year, LD pupils will take part in the BRIDGE Program to better adapt to campus life. After that, they will get help with a variety of learning strategies and work with a professional to develop an individual accommodation program. The program offers many other forms of support; while it does come with a fee, it may be more than worth it for many students.  

American University 

The Learning Services Program is a year-long program for freshman that helps ASD students and others with learning disabilities to acclimate to college life. LSP includes meetings with a program coordinator to develop an appropriate course load, a one-semester writing course and weekly meetings with a writing tutor, and an assigned upperclassman peer mentor. 

American University offers a weekly program for students with ASD. 
For further information, email Erin Tokajer at etokajer@american.edu 

University of Connecticut

Beyond Access (BA) provides an opportunity for students to work smarter, not harder! BA provides a competitive academic environment while also preparing students for life beyond college. Students enrolled in BA work closely with a trained Strategy Instructor (SI) to design and customize their program. This way, everything is based on their individual goals and learning profile.

New York University 

The NYU Connections ASD program is an optional yearlong program through the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities. It offers one-on-one and group support for NYU students on the autism spectrum. NYU Connections intends to build on the inherent strengths of its students, while also looking at creative solutions to navigate the roadblocks that can hinder college success. The program aims to assist with the transition to college and beyond, with a specific eye towards independence. This is currently a pilot program.

University of Tennessee

UTC’s Disability Resource Center has developed a multifaceted and exhaustive program that serves the holistic needs of students with ASD. It’s called Mosaic. In fact, Mosaic is one of the most comprehensive programs in the nation. Mosaic is steeped in ASD research, best practice analysis, and student collaboration. Unique to Mosaic is its model, organized into four primary components split into an academic year. 

Questions? Let us know!