Personal Stories of College Students with Autism

by Dawn Prince-Hughes (Editor)

(Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2002)

Dawn Prince-Hughes, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, is an adjunct professor of anthropology at Western Washington University. She prefaces this collection of autobiographical essays by crediting the internet for the expansion of "autistic culture." Prince-Hughes suggests that it provides a safe haven for individuals who have difficulty with social interactions and provides a forum for people who have similar interests. Autism, the editor reminds us, falls along a spectrum. Individuals whose autism falls on the higher end may become part of the university system as a result of their intellectual abilities. Once enrolled, however, their behaviors may make them stand out as odd and make them unwelcome in an environment in which they should be allowed to thrive. She hopes that the stories of the contributors to this collection will provide opportunities for individuals, universities and communities to better understand the needs of the autistic population.

Some suggestions for creating an inclusive university setting for students who have autism are:

• Counseling should not attempt to change the student; it should provide the student with adaptive strategies.

• Students who want social interaction may meet other students by joining clubs that focus on the student’s area of interest.

• Academic advisors should know that students with autism may not be able to cope with a full course load. Students with autism may be reluctant to study subjects outside their area of interest. Classes should link subjects together.

• Some students may have difficulty identifying the pertinent information in lectures. Handouts could help.

• Students with autism may need extended time for test-taking, or they may need to take the test in a room by themselves.

• Students may need "sameness." They may need to sit in the same place each day.

• Changing classes may present difficulties. Choosing classes in the same building or taping a campus map to the back of a notebook may help.

• Many students with autism have difficulty remembering faces. Name tags in class may help. Faculty members and classmates should identify themselves to the student with autism when approaching the student outside of the usual context.

• Faculty and classmates should recognize that "tic" behaviors are not intended to be disruptive. They may be necessary for the student with autism to focus.

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