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Transitioning and Making Progress in College: Students with Autism

A significant number of students who are on the Autism Spectrum enroll for college every year. Many of these students do not consider themselves as disabled, and in fact, many aren’t by disability standards. However, there remains some significant challenges these students must overcome to be successful in college.

These students are typically very bright, by testing standards, and have made high grades, for the most part, through high school. So, their test scores are high and their grades are good; college should be just fine, right?

Well, maybe. This is where we often see some significant challenges. High school students are provided a great deal of support through classmates who have been together for several years, through building-level teachers and administrators, and through active parent involvement.

College, however, requires a fairly large jump in independence. This jump can be quite significant for students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Living arrangements change, routines change, instructors change…lots of change, and change can be a challenge for students with ASD. These students need a great deal more support with social skills, study skills, and organizational skills to help navigate all the change and transition that’s going on.

Students with ASD, without supports, have a 5-year graduation rate that varies depending on the study, from about 20% to 40%, as compared to around 70% for the general student population here at the University of Tennessee. However, when students with ASD receive appropriate services that targets social skill, study skill, and organizational skill development, the graduation rates go up to above 80% (peer institutions who have support service programs provided this data, including the University of Alabama and the University of Arkansas).

Providing students with these supplementary services, such as those we provide here at the KLASS Center through the Postsecondary Autism Support Services (PASS) Program are key in improving college students’ outcomes who have ASD.

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