Can My 2e Child with ASD Attend College?

By Dawn Marcotte

November, 2015

When the diagnosis of autism is new, many parents feel overwhelmed. Trying to find the right mix of therapy, diet, medication, services, counseling, and treatments can feel like a never-ending task.

Often, the thought of what happens when your children are teens or adults is simply too far away or too difficult to consider. But as happens to all children, yours will grow up and suddenly you will be faced with the difficult decision of what comes next.

Often this realization happens in high school. Students who have had services and supports in school may need to shift the emphasis in high school. Focusing on executive function skills, self-advocacy skills, and behavior can help teens prepare more effectively for what comes after graduation.

Is College a Choice?

For many twice-exceptional students, college is an excellent option. There are over 300 colleges and universities across the nation with support services specific to autistic students. These schools recognize that by providing accommodations autistic students can not only succeed, but they can excel. A searchable database of these schools is available at

Because schools vary widely in the services they provide, it’s important to understand what a specific student will need in support as well as what a prospective school can provide. Finding the right match will improve the entire college experience. Plus, it’s important to remember that college is about more than classwork. Even when academic accommodations are provided, students may struggle with the life skills needed.

What Academic Skills Should a Student Have?

According to the publication A Guide to Assessing College Readiness For Parents of College-Bound Children with Learning Disabilities or AD/HD, published by Landmark College, essential academic skills for college-bound students are these:

  • Be able to read 200 pages a week, every week.
  • Be able to clearly summarize a reading assignment.
  • Be able to take notes. (These should include subject, main ideas, and supporting details.)
  • Write a paper of at least 10 pages that uses at least two sources.
  • Have study skills for tests and finals.

In addition, these executive functioning skills and self-advocacy skills are vital:

  • Be able to track projects, books and papers to ensure everything is handed in on time.
  • Have a system to manage time and competing priorities (study, eat, work, play).
  • Have a strategy to complete tasks that have multiple steps.
  • Have a strategy to complete tasks that are boring.
  • Know the academic supports needed and be able to ask for them.
  • Know legal rights as a student who qualifies as learning disabled.
  • Be able to schedule appointments (doctors, therapist, counselors, teachers, administrators, study groups, etc.) and manage the schedule.
  • Have a strategy to work with the school or a specific teacher to get accommodations as needed.
  • Have a strategy to work with the school to make changes as needed.
  • Have a strategy to work with other students as needed.

What if There are Gaps in a Student’s Skills?

Not all students enter college skilled in all these areas. Different students will have different needs and skill levels. Students who do well academically may still need to work on executive functioning skills (organization and planning). Some students may do well socially but need assistance academically.

Parents and students can work with their high school to create a plan that enables the students to work on the skills they need to be successful in college. At home, it’s important for parents to work on life skills. For example, students will be better prepared for college if they can:

  • Do their own laundry. (Practice at home and at a laundromat so they understand how different machines work.)
  • Shop at grocery and convenience stores so that they learn how to find items.
  • Call to make their own appointments (hair, dentist, doctor, etc.)
  • Clean their room
  • Maintain personal hygiene
  • Get themselves up in the morning on time
  • Prepare for school (pack backpack, etc.)
  • Make simple meals.

College is a big step for any student, but the additional challenges of being a twice-exceptional student on the autism spectrum need not be a barrier. Support from family, therapists, counselors, and the school can provide an environment where a twice-exceptional student thrives.

Dawn Marcotte is a writer and mother of two special children, one who is twice special. Find her on her website or on Facebook.  

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