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World Autism Awareness Day: College Students

Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) on college campuses are often hard to pick out because there’s no clear physical presentation. Prior to 2013, some of these students might be described as having High Functioning Autism (HFA), or a separate disorder known as Asperger’s Syndrome (or Disorder). However, with the implementation of the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 5th Edition (DSM-5), all of these subdivisions were lumped together under the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. That’s a broad spectrum, but the college students who fall somewhere on the spectrum usually deal with some of the same challenges or characteristics:

  • They tend to experience difficulty in communicating effectively with others.
  • They often have problems making ‘appropriate’ conversation, and sometimes seem pedantic.
  • They may have a poor understanding of non-verbal communication such as
  • tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions.
  • Some individuals may find it difficult to make or maintain eye contact.

Many individuals who might fit under the old nomenclature of HFA or Asperger’s Disorder usually desire social contact, but struggle to understand the reciprocal nature of ‘typical’ social interaction, and other people’s language and humor. As a consequence, their attempts at interaction can sometimes seem rather awkward. It can make the person prone to teasing and isolation. Their inability to read people’s intentions can make them vulnerable and may result in them being taken advantage of.

  • They may often have a need for routines.
  • Some may have intense, almost obsessive, interests.
  • They may also rely heavily on other people in their day-to-day life in a way that you might not expect, given their apparent intelligence or independence.
  • Some individuals may experience over- and under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, lights or colors.

Be aware that adults with ASD may have learned to cover up their problems, so signs of the disorder will often be quite subtle. This is one reason that individuals can experience difficulty in getting support.

As a result of difficulties with social interaction and communication, and a lack of support, many adults with ASD are socially isolated and can consequently develop other problems such as anxiety or depression.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.


*Adapted from the National Autistic Society’s Guide for General Practitioners