Colleges adding programs to support students with autism

Some 60 colleges and universities across the United States have created support programs for students with autism, recognizing that as many as one in 59 children today is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to The Hechinger Report, the emergence of programs for neurodiverse students is relatively new; West Virginia’s Marshall University launched the first such offering in 2002. But growing awareness of autism has sparked the creation of similar programs aimed at increasing attainment rates for students on the autism spectrum, only 36 percent of whom participate in some type of postsecondary education.

To support students with autism, colleges are going beyond federally mandated accommodations like increased testing time. These expanded services tend to focus on organization, time management, and social interaction—elements of the college experience that can prove especially challenging for students with autism.

Comprehensive support

At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, students with autism receive specialized support through Mosaic, a comprehensive program offering supervised study time, academic coaching, peer mentors, and four year-long courses addressing social skills. The program enrolls about 10 new students each year and continues through graduation; around two-thirds of Mosaic participants graduate within six years—a higher rate than that for UTC’s overall student body.

Students with autism “needed more social inclusion. They needed all of these things that were not being provided through the typical academic accommodation process,” Michelle Rigler, who founded the Mosaic program in 2008, told The Hechinger Report

Mosaic charges $3,500 per semester in addition to standard tuition, but students who are Tennessee residents can receive funding via the state’s vocational rehabilitation program. Eastern Michigan University, meanwhile, charges between $5,500 and $7,000 for its College Supports Program, which enrolls some 34 students and provides varying levels of support. The Hechinger Report notes that the additional costs associated with these programs can present a barrier. So can their limited reach and competitive admissions, given that demand far outpaces supply. 

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