College Options for Students on the Autism Spectrum (2023)

Though it was first described nearly a century ago, autism spectrum disorder has been poorly understood throughout the 20th century. Autistic people have suffered from destructive myths and misconceptions that limited their ability to achieve in neurotypical-dominated environments.

Today, while the DSM classification of “disorder” stands, many autistic self-advocates have pushed for a fuller understanding of autism as a neurological difference rather than a disability. While many autistic people struggle with independence, a more comprehensive understanding of ASD in recent years has led to a broader understanding of autistic people’s strengths.

With our growing understanding of autism, both colleges and employers are beginning to make intentional efforts to support neurodiversity and provide autistic students and workers with the resources and accommodations they need to succeed. When only 41% of students with disabilities graduate from college, the right support is crucial.

College Options for Students on the Autism Spectrum (1)

A Note on Language: “Autistic” vs “With Autism”

As our understanding of autism has developed, so has our understanding of autistic people. While we frequently see terms like “people with autism,” autistic self-advocates have argued for many years that autism is an identity. Just as we do not describe black people as “people with blackness” or gay people as “people with gayness,” autistic people who describe themselves almost overwhelmingly prefer “autistic” to “with autism.”

Resources for Autistic College Students

Adult Autism Center – Autism and College: Your Comprehensive Preparation Guide

The Adult Autism Center of Lifelong Learning offers this guide to help college students achieve academic success in college, ranging from individualized academic support to social skills development.

American Autism Association – College Programs for Students with Autism

The American Autism Association offers this thorough guide to colleges that offer autism support programs, such as peer mentoring, college life skills, or a dedicated autism transitional education program.

Autism Goes to College

Autism Goes to College is a national college success program for autistic students, providing academic support services, guides for academic planning, and other autistic programs on and off the college campus.

Autistic Self-Advocacy Network – Navigating College

The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network is a leading organization dedicated to helping autistic people speak for themselves. They offer the book Navigating College as a free PDF or for sale in a print version.

Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network

(Video) College and Students on the Autism Spectrum

The Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network provides support, advocacy, and education for women, girls, and nonbinary autistic people.

Child Mind Institute – Going to College with Autism

This article from the Child Mind Institute describes the challenges in autism education, offering resources for achievement and learning success with autism programs.

College Autism Network

The College Autism Network is a comprehensive program dedicated to encouraging autistic students to go to college, and providing the academic and social support necessary for success.

College Autism Spectrum – College Programs

The College Autism Spectrum is a valuable resource for students with autism spectrum disorders, including this comprehensive list of colleges offering an autism support program.

College Internship Program

The College Internship Program works to help autistic young adults find success in independent living, employment, and education by teaching life skills and partnering with local and regional employers.

College Living Experience

College Living Experience is a transition program that has worked to help autistic college students go to college, find work, develop social skills, and live independently since 1989.

Developmental Disabilities Network Journal – Autistic College Students and COVID-19: Anxiety, Support Needs and Responses by Specialized Programs

This research study from the Developmental Disabilities Network Journal describes the effects that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on autistic college students and suggests ways colleges can support them.

Indiana Resource Center for Autism – Academic Supports for College Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Overview

(Video) Program to Support College Students on Autism Spectrum: University of Texas at Austin Longhorn TIES

This research article from the Indiana Resource Center for Autism explains how colleges can provide support for autistic students, including accommodations for sensory issues, social skills, and coping skills.

Interactive Autism Network – Autism and the College Experience; Finding a College Program for Students with Autism

These articles from the Interactive Autism Network describe the college experience for autistic students, and details resources for students and parents to make their college experience successful.

Maine Autism Institute for Education and Research – Supporting College Students on the Autism Spectrum

The Maine Autism Institute offers resources for college students on the spectrum, including fact sheets and videos.

Organization for Autism Research – Finding Your Way

This downloadable guide from the Organization for Autism Research provides information and inspiration for autistic students, including advice from autism experts and autistic students.

Pennsylvania Training & Technical Assistance Network – College Partnership

The Pennsylvania Training & Technical Assistance Network provides extensive support for autistic students in Pennsylvania, such as dedicated programs in PA colleges and universities.

Rutgers University College Support Program

The Rutgers University College Support Program offers many resources for Rutgers students with autism, such as peer mentors, social events, therapy referrals, and other assistance.

Stairway to STEM

Stairway to STEM is an organization dedicated to helping autistic students who are interested in STEM transition into college.

Think College

(Video) Supporting College Students on the Autism Spectrum

The organization Think College works to help students with intellectual disabilities, including autistic students, find the resources and accommodations they need to succeed in college and in life.

Understanding the Experiences of Autistic College Students: An Exploratory Mixed-Methods Analysis

The authors of this research study conducted conversations with autistic college students to learn about their challenges and needs, and suggests programs that colleges and universities can use to improve their lives.

University of Louisville – Supporting College Students with Autism

The University of Louisville offers this site with resources for college students with autism, as well as resources for educators and institutions to make the college experience successful for autistic students.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga – Mosaic

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Mosaic program is a model program for autistic students, known for its comprehensive and holistic approach to success.

University of Texas -The Ultimate Resource Guide for STEM Students With Autism

This helpful guide from the University of Texas links to many resources for autistic students interested in STEM, including specializations like programming, engineering, and game design.

US Department of Education – Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights

This guide from the US Department of Education is designed to help autistic students and their parents understand their rights, under the ADA, and how they may advocate for their rights when they are not recognized by an institution.

Vanderbilt University – Mental Health Guide for Autistic College Students

This guide to mental health was written for autistic students at Vanderbilt University, but offers helpful information and recommendations that are applicable to autistic students anywhere in the US.

College Options for Students on the Autism Spectrum (2)

What Challenges Do Autistic Students Face in College?

One of the biggest struggles for individuals with autism is conventional socialization. Colleges and universities are normally teeming with people. Hallways and classes are often packed with people making it difficult for a person with mild to moderate autistic tendencies to find anything they would remotely consider a safe space. Another problem for individuals with autism is loud noises. Noisy places can lead to panic attacks, causing the student to shut down and withdraw from their class.

(Video) Supporting College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Many autistic people also have ADHD, which is now understood to fall on a spectrum as well. In fact, some researchers have come to believe that autism and ADHD may not just be related, but actually different expressions of the same neurodivergence. As a result, though, many autistic college students also deal with other learning disabilities.

The best college for autistic students is one that offers an environment in which the student can thrive. This means access to quiet areas where they can go if they begin to get overwhelmed. It also means being in a classroom setting with fewer students. It’s also important for the student to have a mentor or advisor that is easily accessible if the student requires assistance. Ideal colleges for autistic students are those that pride themselves on smaller class sizes and a laid back, relaxed environment. A college that offers online degree programs is an excellent choice.

What are the Best College Programs for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Unfortunately, there is no universal standard, and different higher education institutions treat autistic students very differently. There are vast differences in the level of support across institutions, with challenges ranging from the college’s budget for support to issues written (or unwritten) into the school’s mission. Simply put, many colleges still do not prioritize the needs of autistic students and students with other disabilities.

So yes, all colleges and universities that accept federal aid are required to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the bare minimum is the bare minimum. Other institutions may offer more robust tutoring programs, socialization programs, autism-friendly residence halls, and more. Some will work with private sector providers to offer resources – sometimes for a fee.

In terms of the best degree programs for students with an autism spectrum disorder, autistic students can thrive in any type of degree program as long as the student has the resources and accommodations they need to complete the work. The best colleges for students with autism spectrum disorder are those that offer both online degree programs and classroom/campus programs. In some cases, a student may need to blend both types of learning options to earn their degree. By working with an autistic student, universities make it possible for the student to achieve their goals.

College programs for students with autistic spectrum disorder take many forms. Support programs designed to assist autistic students are becoming popular additions at many universities. Effective college programs for students with autism offer resources they can use to help them feel more comfortable in their surroundings. Model programs like Rochester Institute of Technology’s Spectrum Support Program and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Mosaic are designed to put the student back in control of both themselves as well as their environment.

What are the Best College Grants for Students with Autism?

College grants for students with autism can be found in a number of places. Organizations that work to research autism and the related autism spectrum disorders offer both grants and scholarships to students who have been diagnosed and are ready to move forward with their education. In many situations, the student’s medical care can limit their ability to pursue secondary education. By researching potential grants and scholarships, students with autism can find the funding they need to continue their education and earn their degrees.

Many of the grant and scholarship programs offered for students with autism and other learning disabilities are multi-year awards. Most scholarships are a one-time award which means the entire award is given at one time. Multi-year awards are divided up and provided to the student in a designated amount each year. For example, if a student is awarded $10,000, they will receive $2,500 every year for four years. This is beneficial for students with disabilities because it eliminates the stress and frustration of re-applying every year. Schools with college programs for autistic students often include scholarships or some type of assistance to help the student get the education they want to pursue their careers.

What Are the College Programs for Autistic students?

Colleges with programs for students with autism often have what are known as “support” programs. In addition to helping students with things like social skills, academics, and transitioning to a more independent lifestyle, the support programs also provide financial assistance. Depending on the school in question and the financial need of the students, awards can range from $1,000 to $5,000 a semester. These support programs receive funding from organizations that work with students with learning disabilities or special needs. Donations also come from outside sources.

Colleges with programs for autistic students work hand in hand with each student to make sure their needs are being met and they are able to complete their studies on time. Individuals who work as part of the support team make themselves available to the students at all times in case of an emergency or if the student needs assistance in some way. With the help of college support programs, students with autism and other autistic spectrum disorders can achieve their goals, earn their degrees, and make their way into the career of their choice.


Best Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities

Scholarships for Students on the Autism Spectrum


College Options for Students on the Autism Spectrum? ›

Computer science is a good choice because it is very likely that many of the best programmers have either Asperger's syndrome or some of its traits. Other good majors are: accounting, engineering, library science, and art with an emphasis on commercial art and drafting.

What is the best college degree for autistic people? ›

Computer science is a good choice because it is very likely that many of the best programmers have either Asperger's syndrome or some of its traits. Other good majors are: accounting, engineering, library science, and art with an emphasis on commercial art and drafting.

Can a student with autism go to college? ›

Although some individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may find college overwhelming or too challenging, many students with autism do well in an academic environment, particularly if they have the opportunity to focus on areas of personal interest.

What state is the most autism friendly? ›

Best and Worst States for Autism

Colorado, New York, Maryland, and Connecticut typically rank high as the states providing the most benefits to autistic people in all age groups.

What percent of autistic students go to college? ›

RESULTS: For youth with an ASD, 34.7% had attended college and 55.1% had held paid employment during the first 6 years after high school.

What is the average GPA for autistic people? ›

Beyond graduation and retention rates, little is known about the academic performance of college students with ASD, but one study of 35 students found strong academic performance. The average self-re- ported GPA was 3.27, with 80% reporting a GPA above 3.0, and 49% arriving with AP credits (Gelbar et al., 2014).

Why is college hard for autistic students? ›

Because college comes with so many new responsibilities, autistic students may have a hard time managing their time and staying on track. Living independently, taking care of daily needs, managing homework and schedules — dealing with all these things at once can be overwhelming.

Should I tell my college I have autism? ›

Disclosing on college applications

The question of whether to disclose autism in college applications, however, is a very personal decision. In general, there's no reason to assume that disclosure will either help or hurt a student's chances of being admitted.

Can you get a scholarship for being autistic? ›

The Kelly Law Team Autism Scholarship is a college scholarship that is awarded to students who have been diagnosed with one or more of the autism spectrum disorders. Applicants must be citizens of the United States and ready to enroll in a college, university, or trade school.

How do I prepare my autistic child for college? ›

Ways to help prepare your autistic child for college
  1. Improve communication and social skills. ...
  2. Teach your teen how to set goals. ...
  3. Focus on executive function skills. ...
  4. Encourage self-advocacy. ...
  5. Enroll them in a study-skills course and hire a tutor to help them learn how to study effectively. ...
  6. Practice life skills.
Apr 11, 2021

Is autism is Hereditary? ›

Inheritance. ASD has a tendency to run in families, but the inheritance pattern is usually unknown. People with gene changes associated with ASD generally inherit an increased risk of developing the condition, rather than the condition itself.

Do autistic people get money from the state? ›

Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is a monthly government payment through Social Security which is designed to support people who are aged (65 and older), blind, or disabled. Individuals with autism may be eligible to receive SSI to help support them financially.

What is the color for autism support? ›

On world autism awareness day, April 2nd, you may see plenty of blue being shown off to support autism awareness. The color blue's association to autism originated with the autism advocacy association known as Autism Speaks. Their “Light it Up Blue” campaign calls for people to wear blue to promote autism awareness.

What happens when an autistic child turns 18? ›

Once your special needs child turns 18, becoming his or her “guardian” allows you to continue to meet his or her needs, the fact that he or she is now legally an adult notwithstanding. Becoming your child's guardian does not in any way alter your fundamental relationship as your child's parent.

How to succeed in college with autism? ›

  1. Acquaint yourself with the disabilities services office BUT don't make any assumptions about their knowledge of AS. ...
  2. Consider disclosure, on an as-needed basis. ...
  3. Find activity-based clubs. ...
  4. Smaller is not always better. ...
  5. Choose a campus first, then establish your network of support. ...
  6. Take care of yourself.

What is the dropout rate for autistic? ›

According to a study by psychologist Susan W. White, only 41% of students with disabilities, including autism, enrolled in a four-year college will graduate with a bachelor's degree.

How close are we to a cure for autism? ›

Most experts agree that there is no cure for autism. That's why many of them approach ASD in a way that looks at the management of symptoms or development of skills and support, which includes behavioral, psychological, and educational therapy.

What is the life expectancy of a person with level 1 autism? ›

The life expectancy for people in the category of Level 1 ASD is the highest among the three. It's slightly lower than the average life expectancy, but the lack of extreme symptoms means that most having the disorder are capable of carrying a normal life.

What percent of autistic adults are married? ›

About 35% of autistic people are married, though such figures don't always take into account people that aren't diagnosed or have received a potential misdiagnosis.

Can I get a single dorm if I have autism? ›

Many Autistic people do well when they can have a single-occupancy dorm. I have written letters requesting this accommodation for several of the college students I have worked with. This is absolutely an appropriate accommodation to ask for.

Is math hard for autistic students? ›

Autistic children can experience deficits in executive functioning. This can lead to difficulties in math word problem solving as it involves: Organizing information and operations. Flexibly moving between pieces of information.

Why is math so hard for autistic students? ›

One of the main reasons is that math often requires abstract thinking and problem-solving, which can be difficult for some students with autism who struggle with executive functioning or have difficulty understanding metaphors and figurative language.

How does autism affect academically? ›

Children with autism often face unique challenges in school and learning overall. They may need more time to understand concepts or an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). On top of delays in cognitive development, autistic children are affected by other hindrances, such as sensory issues and behavior problems.

How many autistic people are in college? ›

Prevalence of Autism in College Students

Each year, roughly 49,000 individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) complete high school (Wei, Wagner, Hudson, Yu, & Javitz, 2015). Approximately 16,000 of those students will subsequently pursue higher education (Wei, Wagner et al., 2015).

What does autism look like in schools? ›

trouble interacting, playing with, or relating to others. little or brief eye contact with others. unusual or repetitive movements, such as hand flapping, spinning, or tapping.

Can I get money for my son being autistic? ›

Yes, there are many forms of financial aid and benefits available to parents of children with autism from sources such as the Social Security Administration, Medicaid, insurance, grants, and educational support.

Is autism a disability? ›

Autism is a neurological developmental disability with an estimated prevalence of one to two percent of the American and worldwide population. The diversity of the disability means that each person's individual experience of autism and needs for supports and services can vary widely.

Can I get paid for my son having autism? ›

If your child or a loved one's child has autism, then they could be eligible for monetary payments from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in forms of Social Security disability benefits. The SSA gives out monthly benefits to those.

What do autistic kids do after high school? ›

Vocational and trade school programs: Young adults with autism can have the opportunity to learn a skill or a trade, get on-the-job training, and gain work experience with the supervision and support they need.

How do you calm down a student with autism? ›

During a meltdown: what to do

Give your child space, don't touch them, and keep other people away. Turn down lights and keep things quiet, or give your child noise-cancelling headphones. Let one person speak to your child, but don't say too much. Stay calm and wait.

Who carries the autism gene mother or father? ›

Does The Father Or Mother Carry The Autism Gene? Autism was always thought to have a maternal inheritance component, however, research suggests that the rarer variants associated with the disorder are usually inherited from the father.

Does autism run in mother or father? ›

Due to its lower prevalence in females, autism was always thought to have a maternal inheritance component. However, research also suggests that the rarer variants associated with autism are mostly inherited from the father. Ultimately, autism is a complex condition with 100s of genes involved.

Which parent usually carries the autism gene? ›

Since autism is less prevalent in females, autism was always thought to be passed down from the mother. However, research suggests that autism genes are usually inherited from the father.

Does autism count as a disability on taxes? ›

Is Autism Considered a Disability for Tax Purposes? The short answer is “yes,” the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) does cover children with autism as a disability, but the process is a bit more complex than merely claiming the EITC on your tax return.

How much does a child with autism get from SSI 2023? ›

How Much Does a Child with Autism Get From SSI? The amount of SSI payments directly corresponds to the income level of your household. In other words, the lower your income, the more disability benefits you will receive. The full SSI benefit amount for 2023 is $841 per month.

Is it hard to get SSI for a child with autism? ›

You can find your specific household income limit online. Financial limitations are the top reason why children with autism are denied SSI benefits. The good news is that once your child turns 18, he or she will likely qualify for SSI regardless of whether your child is still living at home.

What flower represents autism? ›

Blue “Forget-me-not” flower to raise awareness for the needs of people with autism.

Which animal is the best pet for an autistic child? ›

Dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs are not just cute companions, they're also great for helping autistic children with their social and emotional development.

What emoji is used for autism? ›

Gold or rainbow infinity sign for autism

The use of a rainbow spectrum in the infinity symbol was designed to drive awareness of the diversity among neurodivergent individuals.

What is the hardest age with an autistic child? ›

Amaral: The percentage of kids who increased in severity between ages 6-11 was higher than that of other ages. We theorize that could be due to the many increased social demands that may lead people to withdraw, as well as the development of anxiety, which can increase at that age.

What is the mental age of an autistic child? ›

Abstract Some children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) exhibit low mental age (Low-MA), defined here as cognitive functioning below 12 months.

What age do autistic kids get better? ›

One key finding was that children's symptom severity can change with age. In fact, children can improve and get better. "We found that nearly 30% of young children have less severe autism symptoms at age 6 than they did at age 3.

Is college hard for autistic students? ›

Although some individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may find college overwhelming or too challenging, many students with autism do well in an academic environment, particularly if they have the opportunity to focus on areas of personal interest.

What is the best education for autism? ›

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and DIRFloortime

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is commonly utilized in schools to teach children with autism. ABA has been endorsed by The National Institutes of Health, the Surgeon General, and the Association for Science in Autism Research.

What type of school is best for high functioning autism? ›

If you have a high-functioning child who would do well in a diverse population, public school might work well. If your child requires more individualized attention or specific kinds of therapies, a private, specialized school may be the best fit. At times, finding the right fit may take some trial and error.

Why is autism so common now? ›

Advances in diagnostic capabilities and greater understanding and awareness of autism spectrum disorder seem to be largely driving the increase, the Rutgers researchers said. But there's probably more to the story: Genetic factors, and perhaps some environmental ones, too, might also be contributing to the trend.

Why is autism more common now? ›

The CDC says more children are being diagnosed with autism than ever before. The rates may reflect growing awareness of autism spectrum disorder and a focus on getting more children into treatment. Other factors including air pollution, low birth weight, and stress may also be behind the increase in diagnoses.

Are 85% of autistic people unemployed? ›

At least 85% of autistic adults with a college education are unemployed, according to 2023 statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor.

What college majors have the most autistic students? ›

Systemizing skills:

In the autism group, science and computer science are the most common majors: 16 percent of the students with autism enrolled in computer science compared with just 4 percent of those with learning disabilities and 6 percent of those with speech and language impairments.

What of people with autism graduate college? ›

According to a study by psychologist Susan W. White, only 41% of students with disabilities, including autism, enrolled in a four-year college will graduate with a bachelor's degree.

What is the highest degree of autism? ›

Level 3 is the most severe level of autism. People with level 3 autism have limited ability to speak clearly. Difficulty with both verbal and nonverbal communication makes it challenging to interact with others. This level of autism requires a higher level of support throughout life.

What is the hardest part of being autistic? ›

Due to the behavioural, information processing and sensory aspects of their diagnosis, many people on the autism spectrum often prefer familiar environments with a predictable routine. Restricted and repetitive interests, sensory processing differences and heightened anxiety can make even small changes stressful.

Where is the highest concentration of autism? ›

Key Autism Statistics

1 in 100 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as of 2021. Autism prevalence has increased 178% since 2000. The country with the highest rate of diagnosed autism in the world is Qatar, and the country with the lowest rate is France. Around 4 times as many boys have autism as girls.

What percentage of stem majors are autistic? ›

Of the thirty-one percent of students with autism who enter college, thirty-four percent chose majors in the STEM fields, compared to 8.7 percent of students with a learning disability and 10.6 percent of students with a speech and language impairment.

What is the unemployment rate for autism? ›

More than 66% of young adults on the Autism spectrum are unemployed and are not engaged in higher education 2 years after exiting high school.

Are 85% of college grads affected by autism unemployed? ›

Of those American Autistics with university diplomas, only 15 percent are employed. This 85 percent unemployment rate (among college-educated Autistic adults) is massive—the general population's unemployment rate (at all education levels) is only 4.5 percent.

What is the life expectancy of someone with autism? ›

Long-term research that involved following a group of individuals with autism for two decades indicates that the average life expectancy for some autistic people is about 39 years. Furthermore, this population generally succumbed to health complications about 20 years earlier than individuals who do not have autism.

What are the 4 types of autism? ›

What are the types of autism?
  • autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Asperger's syndrome.
  • childhood disintegrative disorder.
  • pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified.
Mar 4, 2021

What are the 4 levels of autism? ›

The previous DSM-4 categorized autism as separate diagnoses of Asperger's syndrome, PDD-NOS, autistic disorder, and CDD. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an autism information page with links to resources.


1. Transition to College for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder
(NJ Autism Center of Excellence)
2. College designed for students with autism
(TMJ4 News)
3. Autistic & Neurodivergent College Students
(Student Affairs Now Host)
(Autistic Allie)
5. College overview for your autistic child
(Life On Spectrum Living With Autism)
6. Navigating the Transition to College for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder
(NJ Autism Center of Excellence)


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