The summer between high school graduation and the first day of college classes can be both exciting and anxiety-producing. It can be for anyone, really, but it may be especially so for individuals diagnosed with ASD. Challenges with executive functioning and theory of mind may make aspects important to the transition– planning for it, for example, or knowing who to go to for necessary advice to help with the transition – a significant hurdle to overcome.
Having a practical experience on a college campus prior to the move-in day may be a good way to overcome some of the challenges associated with transition to college.
Marshall University first developed a college experience for high school students diagnosed with ASD in 2008. Each summer dozens of rising seniors (students who have completed their junior year of high school and are entering their senior year) spend five weeks on campus.
They take a course of their choosing for college credit, live in dorms, and eat meals in a college cafeteria. Students receive one-on-one mentoring from the staff of the West Virginia Autism Training Center, and attend skill-building groups during their stay.
General goals of the summer college experience include:
1. Learn to effectively interact with college administrators, professors and advisers;
2. Learn their way around campus during a time when few students are on the property;
3. Learn about dorm living, about living with roommates, and creating a social network;
4. Experience, and prepare for, the freedom and independence that comes with campus living;
5. Explore campus social groups and clubs.
Like many teens, most high school students arrive for this summer experience with little reference for what college might be like for them. The purpose of the summer high school program is to provide a basic, experiential reference for college.
This program has been successful in helping incoming freshmen feel more equipped to handle the pressures of a college transition.
I encourage you to talk to administrators at your college of choice and ask if such an opportunity is available for you or your child. If it’s not, consider scheduling other out-of-the-home experiences that may lead to maturation and self-growth prior to graduation from high school. The experience may well improve the quality of the college transition.
by Marc Ellison
Marc Ellison, Ed.D. is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and an approved Licensed Professional supervisor (ALPS) who has worked nearly 30 years to provide person-centered support, services and advocacy to individuals who live with autism spectrum disorders, their families and those who support them. He has supported individuals with ASD throughout their lifespan, as they moved to the community from state-supported institutions, searched for and obtained employment, entered into relationships, and transitioned into college. Dr. Ellison is the Executive Director of the West Virginia Autism Training Center, and a part-time professor at Marshall University.