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Post-Secondary Education
General information for all families

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Preparing for Post-Secondary Education: Where to Go and What to Study

The transition to a college environment can be difficult for many individuals with ASD. However, with preparation and transition planning, the process can be customized for your young adult, thereby increasing the potential for success.

If postsecondary education is a goal for your young adult, then your young adult’s transition plan should include preparatory work for proficiency tests and assessments, such as the SAT or ACT. Also, the transition planning process should help you and your young adult identify his academic strengths to better determine a match between his interests and a school.

Begin exploring early. Help your young adult look into potential summer courses at a community college or explore other options, such as technical or trade schools in your area. Meet and network with current students and attend an information meeting at a local college. The more you can prepare your young adult for the college environment and experience, the more effective his transition will be.

See Also:, an interactive website to hep individuals with disabilities plan for college helps students with ASD explore and navigate college options before, during and through the college process.

Report from the American Academy of Pediatrics on Postsecondary Education and Employment Among Youth With an Autism Spectrum Disorder

Choosing the Right School

Deciding on a college is a milestone for all teens—and your young adult with ASD is no exception. Finding the right match for your young adult with ASD will be key to his success, and many types of programs are available that may accommodate his needs. Consider all the options, set your requirements, and then narrow the field of candidates. You can use the checklist in Appendix 6 for evaluating colleges as you begin your search:

  • Vocational school, community college, technical institute, state school, or a smaller liberal arts school may all be good options, depending on your young adult’s area of interest.
  • Certificate programs may provide good training in an area of interest.
  • Some individuals with ASD may prefer 2-year community colleges to start out because they can live at home yet begin the postsecondary process. However, at the end of these 2 years, he may want to transfer to a 4-year college, which would require, minimally, some degree of transition planning to identify and address the potential challenges and stressors associated with the new educational environment.
  • You may want to work with a guidance counselor during this process to explore all available options.
  • You may want to visit particular schools and meet with admissions counselors, as they will be the best able to provide you and your young adult with more detailed information.
  • Orientation programs at schools or even the Internet provide a lot of detailed information to determine the most appropriate choice for your young adult.

Once you and your child have determined a specific program or university, it is important to determine what services they may offer to help your young adult with ASD. Most, if not all, colleges and universities have a department that specializes in ensuring compliance with both ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Find out what types of disability-related resources they offer their students, and the process to access these accommodations. By becoming familiar with the system and the services provided, your young adult will be more adequately prepared to advocate for himself, increasing the chances for success.

College Options for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

In recent years, college has become an option for all students with disabilities including those with intellectual disabilities who do not meet typical college entrance requirements. Participating in a college experience allows students with intellectual disabilities to learn academic, vocational, and social skills through age-appropriate inclusion with peers. Certificate programs designed for students with intellectual disabilities can now be found in over 200 colleges and universities across the US (see Think College for more information).

Also refer to a compiled List of College Programs for Students with Autism at the bottom of the page.

Self-Advocacy: A Key Skill in a College Environment

Once your son or daughter is accepted into college, the role of advocate needs to fall less on you and far more, if not fully, on your young adult.  In college, there is no IEP team. Under ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, your young adult with ASD becomes responsible for identification, documentation, and requesting accommodations. In fact, self-advocacy skills are considered so critical to your child’s success in college that many such institutions do not even have a mechanism by which you, as the parent, may advocate on their behalf. In the postsecondary setting, accommodations are not readily offered; the students with disabilities must first disclose and describe the need for accommodations to the Office of Disability Services, which determines their eligibility for those accommodations. Your young adult with ASD may also need to explain his/her accommodations to others, such as professors and/or roommates. As such, it is of critical importance that you prepare your young adult with self-advocacy skills to help him communicate his needs to the appropriate person in the appropriate manner. Public universities generally have an office of “Disability Support Services,” which is the best place for him or her to begin.

Keys to success: How can students with ASD improve their self-determination skills to succeed in postsecondary education?

  • Participating in IEP meetings. Being actively involved in IEP meetings will help you become aware about your disability, your rights, and possible support services.
  • Knowing your rights. As an individual with a disability, you are protected under three laws (IDEA, ADA, and Section 504). It is important to know your rights in order to ask for what you want and require.
  • Building self-awareness. It is important to understand and accept your disability. Learn about yourself, particularly about your disability. Figure out your strengths. Everyone has strengths, but sometimes it can be hard to discover them. Investigate your interests. Determine what you like to do, and what are the areas in which you have a passion. Knowing what your strengths and interests are will help you choose the classes that are right for you and help you find a major and career in which you can succeed.
  • Setting goals. You should make a plan to accomplish your goals. Sometimes large goals can seem overwhelming. Identify short-term goals that are realistic and help to build to your long-term goals, such as career, graduate school, living on your on and so on. Learn how to take a goal, break it into smaller steps and take it one step at a time; once you accomplish the goals, you move on to the next one.
  • Planing to advocate – Learn how to speak up for what you want in an effective way. Practice as many times as necessary, even with a family member, friend or high-school teacher. This skill is important to have in college because you are ultimately in charge of your education and will need to communicate your needs with faculty, advisers and college personnel
  • Seeking services on campus. Asking for help is very important. Even before starting the academic year, learn about all of the services available to you on campus and utilize them to assist you in staying in school. Now is the time to disclose and talk about your disability to the Disability Support Services office on campus to obtain accommodations.
  • Forming relationships with professors and instructors. Meet your professors and instructors to go over the issues raised in class or to help them obtain a better understanding of what you needed in terms of support in the class. It’s important to make sure that all faculty and staff members are familiar and understand your disability and the accommodations you are eligible to receive
  • Developing support systems on campus. Establish friendships with peers, seek out service support staff on campus, and join support groups or other group activities. Identify your parents or family members as part of your support system. You don’t have to go through this experience by yourself. Parents could play an important role in your life by encouraging, supporting, and understanding you and the issues you face in college.

How can parents help?

  • Help your young adult with ASD to become autonomous
  • Discuss with your child about his/her disability, strengths and weaknesses
  • Help the child began planning for life
  • Listen and focus on your child's interests and goals
  • Assist your child to become familiar with resources he/she can access
  • Review the types and intensities of services and supports that were useful in high school and explaining how they might be beneficial in college.

Additional Skills Your Child Will Rely on in College or Further Education

Aside from knowing what supports your young adult’s needs, he must now effectively communicate these needs. Certain skills or, more accurately, skill sets are critical to the process:

Setting Up—and Using—Support Services

It is important to keep in mind that the protections once offered by the IEP and transition plan will no longer be available as an entitlement in a post-secondary setting. Universities do not have a responsibility to identify students with disabilities or determine what supports are needed. As noted previously, this responsibility falls on you and, primarily, your young adult.  ADA and Section 504 protect your child from discrimination based on his disability if disclosed. Your young adult can request accommodations to help him in the college setting to fully participate in classes and other activities. (Note: While some colleges or universities may allow the student to complete a form designating a parent as the primary advocate, this is not the norm and, in some cases, may not even be appropriate.) For additional information specifically on post-secondary supports and legal requirements, see this resource: 

List of Suggestions for Getting the Support Your Young Adult Needs from his College

Many young adults with disabilities are hesitant to disclose their disability once they enter college. Below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of disclosure from The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) [1]

Advantages of disclosure:

  • It allows you to receive reasonable accommodations so that you can pursue work, school, or community activities more effectively.
  • It provides legal protection against discrimination (as specified in the Americans with Disabilities Act)
  • It reduces stress, since protecting a “secret” can take a lot of energy.
  • It gives you a clearer impression of what kinds of expectations people may have of you and your abilities.
  • It ensures that you are getting what you need in order to be successful (for example, through an accommodation or medication).
  • It provides full freedom to examine and question health insurance and other benefits.
  • It provides greater freedom to communicate should you face changes in your particular situation.
  • It improves your self-image through selfadvocacy.
  • It allows you to involve other professionals (for example, educators and employment service providers) in the learning of skills and the development of accommodations.
  • It increases your comfort level

Disadvantages of disclosure:

  • It can cause you to relive bad past experiences that resulted in the loss of a job or negative responses from your peers
  • It can lead to the experience of exclusion.
  • It can cause you to become an object of  curiosity.
  • It can lead to your being blamed if something doesn’t go right.
  • It can lead to your being treated differently than others.
  • It can bring up conflicting feelings about your self-image.
  • It can lead to your being viewed as needy, not self-sufficient, or unable to perform on par with peers.
  • It could cause you to be overlooked for a job, team, group, or organization.
  • Disclosing personal and sensitive information can be extremely difficult and embarrassing.

Further education—whether college or technical school—will open up a whole new realm of possibilities for your young adult’s future. While it will be tough for you to let him go—probably tougher than for the parent of a neurotypical child—it will be important for you to avoid being a hovering parent and to let your young adult have some freedom to explore his new environment. If postsecondary education is a realistic goal for your young adult with ASD, preparation and planning can make this process go smoothly and successfully, and it will help to relieve some of your worries.

See Also:

Waiver Funded Services for Post-Secondary Education

Asperger Foundation International has an ongoing project listing colleges and universities with specialized programs for students with autism/asperger's.

CONNECT Information Service, 150 South Progress Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17109, Voice: 800-692-7288  is a private agency with publications and resource information for a wide range of ages, disability types, and audiences. Specifically they distribute: College Services and Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities, a booklet prepared in the late 1990’s by Dottie H. Dunn, counselor at Cumberland Valley High School.

The 411 on Disability Disclosure

What Financial Resources are Available to Fund Post-Secondary Education?

There are a variety of ways to finance a post-secondary education including scholarships, grants, and student loans. Through FAFS, the government offer subsidized and unsubsidized low-interest rate loans. Many post-secondary institutions also offer specific scholarships, grants, or financial aid packages to their students. In addition, there are a variety of outside grants and scholarships that may be available to your son or daughter.

Financial Aid Information:

Scholarship Information:;

See Also: Comprehensive list of scholarship websites for individuals with disabilities

College Programs for Students with Autism

There are a variety of programs that allow individuals with autism to attend college. The following article discusses University options for students with autism. A school may be equipped to educate and care for students with autism even if it does not have a specific program dedicated to students with ASD. College Autism Spectrum, an independent organization of professionals, has offered training to more than 50 colleges around the country, teaching staff techniques to support students on the autism spectrum including strategies to increase academic and social success, executive functioning and self-regulation, and awareness training for faculty and students.

College Autism Spectrum also includes a comprehensive list of programs for students with ASD.

College Internship Program (CIP)


  • Western Kentucky University, Kelly Autism Program
    • See CBS news coverage of the program: Kelly Autism Program at WKU, founded in 2002, has grown to have more than 100 individuals enrolled. The KAP Circle of Support provides three major areas of supports: private room, study tables, and mentoring. During mandatory study times four days a week, students get instruction on executive functioning skills like organization and prioritizing work and also receive tutoring on their classes. Students are assigned a mentor that acclimates them to campus.


  • Eastern Michigan University Listen to this You Tube presentation by Sally Burton-Hoyle, a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. In this talk, given July 2014, she discusses her work at Eastern Michigan University in helping students with autism make the transition to college.

New Jersey

New York




  • Wisconsin Independent Life College provides integrated, personalized training and therapy programs within a campus-life community that teaches, trains, and coaches through an innovative multi-modality approach.


Post-secondary education resources

Acknowledgement: The sections on Preparing for Post-Secondary Education, Choosing the Right School, Self-Advocacy and Support Services are reprinted here with the kind permission of the Organization for Autism Research, from their publication, Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide for Transition to Adulthood.  This excellent resource is available for download at the Organization for Autism Research's website at