This article was contributed by Nancy Nestor, an Autism Resource Specialist in the Charlotte region, an autism mom, and a former teacher.
This is the time of year when many high school students and their families are thinking about the next steps in their lives – touring colleges, taking the SAT or ACT, and starting college applications. It can be anxiety-inducing as well as exciting. For students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there may be some special considerations. We will go over these, as well as potential supports and resources.
Is your child ready to live independently?
If you are contemplating sending your teen off to college, the Guardianship Capacity Questionnaire is useful to assess readiness for the independence that adulthood brings. The form, which you can find at www.nccourts.org/forms/Documents/846.pdf, asks questions about the person’s ability to independently use language and communicate, take care of their nutritional needs, maintain good hygiene and health, stay safe, live by themselves or in a group, seek and maintain employment, handle finances, and self-advocate. Completing the form will help you know what to work on this year with your teen.
College in a traditional program
Once someone graduates from high school with a diploma or an Occupational Course of Study Diploma, they can continue on to college, if that is a reasonable choice for them and they have the grades to support college admission. College students with ASD can still receive academic supports if they meet the following conditions:
- They have a current medical diagnosis of autism.
- They contact the Office of Student Disability at their college or university to share that they have a disability.
Education in the public school system must be free and appropriate. According to the US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, colleges and universities are not required to provide FAPE, free and appropriate public education; however, they must provide appropriate academic adjustments to avoid discrimination against a student on the basis of their disability. Also, if a college or university provides housing to nondisabled students, the same or comparable housing must be accessible to those with disabilities at a location that is convenient and with the same cost.
Although the education is no longer free, a college or university cannot charge extra for providing academic adjustments or for participation in its programs or activities. Once the office of student disability has been notified and given the appropriate information, staff members can work with the student to determine the necessary academic adjustments. Just as with an IEP, the adjustments will be individualized to the student’s needs. In the college setting, academic adjustments include: “auxiliary aids and services, as well as modifications to academic requirements as necessary to ensure equal educational opportunity. Examples of adjustments are: arranging for priority registration; reducing a course load; substituting one course for another, providing note takers, recording devices, sign language interpreters, extended time for testing, and, if telephones are provided in dorm rooms, a TTY in your dorm room; and equipping school computers with screen-reading, voice recognition, or other adaptive software or hardware.”
Also, the Office for Civil Rights states that “In providing an academic adjustment, your postsecondary school is not required to lower or substantially modify essential requirements. For example, although your school may be required to provide extended testing time, it is not required to change the substantive content of the test. In addition, your postsecondary school does not have to make adjustments that would fundamentally alter the nature of a service, program, or activity, or that would result in an undue financial or administrative burden. Finally, your postsecondary school does not have to provide personal attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature, such as tutoring and typing.”
To learn more about students’ rights, go to http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html.
College Through a Comprehensive Transition Program
Students who are graduating with a Certificate of Attendance or an Occupational Course of Study Diploma may be appropriate candidates for one of the Comprehensive Transition Programs. The “Think College” website, www.thinkcollege.net, lists a variety of two -and four-year programs that are housed in universities, colleges, community colleges, and technical schools across the state.
They offer a variety choices for students, including on-campus, fully inclusive housing with the ability to take regular classes as an audit, partial inclusion in various settings, or living/working within a self-contained group. In some of the programs, the students will receive a certificate for course completion, but a few allow students to work toward a degree.
Because of the success of Comprehensive Transition Programs, many community colleges are strengthening their compensatory education programs to include supports for students on the autism spectrum. Compensatory education classes are inexpensive and sometimes free. If moving away from home is not yet an option, it would be wise to research community college options near your home to see whether they could provide reasonable supports. Many students enroll at the community college level to gain skills they will need for higher level classes and also to get basic requirements out of the way for their major at a university level.
Applying for Scholarships and Grants
Although there are no autism-specific scholarships available for North Carolina residents at this time, students with autism are free to compete for scholarships. Be sure to check several sources, such as your school guidance counselor, local organizations, parents’ employers, and the state. Many colleges and universities also offer scholarships.
Given the academic struggles that often accompany autism, many students do not have the grade-point average or the community involvement to be considered for scholarships. In cases like this, they can apply for federal and state grants. Before students can apply for these funds, they must fill out a FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid at https://fafsa.ed.gov/.
To learn more about financial aid, go to www.collegescholarships.org/grants/disabilities.htm. When looking into a Comprehensive Transition Program, be especially careful because some programs do accept Pell Grants, but not federal student loans.
If a young adult has Innovations waiver funds, at least one NC program can use the funds toward education. Beyond Academics, a CTP Program at UNCG, is a state-accredited service provider and can work with any Managed Care Organization (MCO) in the state. Although Innovations funds cannot be used for class tuition and books, they can be used for supplemental support as required in their Individual Support Plan, which has been approved by their MCO.
- Preparing for College Starts at Home: Webinar online on Tuesday, Sept. 13. Register now
- Considering College? Prepare, Plan, Succeed!: Workshop in Raleigh on Tuesday, Sept. 27. Register now
Contact an Autism Resource Specialist near you.
Find books on autism and college, employment, and transitions in the ASNC Bookstore. Two we especially like are Life After High School and Smile & Succeed for Teens.
Nancy Nestor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-894-9678.
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