Looking for a College with an Autism Support Programs - any successful experiences?

Hello All,
Our Aspie daughter will be attending college in the Fall of 2021. She is currently a 4.0 student and did well on her SAT with a score of 1440. She is suddenly getting mail from all kinds of colleges from all over the nation. She has good work ethic and works almost too hard in my opinion; as she is a hyper-focuses on homework and usually over does assignments.

She is socially awkward, naive and somewhat disorganized and attends a small high school in Alaska with about 90 kids in her class so she is accustomed to a small school. There are no colleges in Alaska that have support programs so we have been researching programs all over the nation.

She is interested in autism studies (the main reason we are looking at St Josephs is they offer a BA in autism studies), neuroscience, genetics and any kind of research. She likes theater and music for fun. She dislikes competition and is a people pleaser. The only physical activity she really enjoys is swimming as she also has a genetic condition called EDS that makes her knees dislocate with the slightest wrong move. However, she always keeps a good attitude about it.

She has a difficult time making friends and/or socializing which is why she does not have a single true friend but lots of acquaintances who seem to like her or will seek her out for help on school work. I worry about her being alone far away from home and at the same time I worry that she won’t be able to be alone to decompress after a busy day with most of the accommodations I have looked at being shared single rooms. Anyway, some of the colleges we are looking at are:

George Mason University Fairfax, Virginia
Drexel University West Philadelphia, PA
Eastern University Saint Davids, PA
St. Joseph’s University Philadelphia, PA
Fairleigh Dickinson University Madison, NJ
Rutgers University New Brunswick, NJ
The above seem to far away (22 hour travel time from home to get there).

The following are interesting and we have family in Nashville, Tennessee.
University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, KY
University of Tennessee Chattanooga Chattanooga, Tennessee
Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee

The following would be closer to home and easiest to get too with Alaska Airlines but still about 15 hours travel time.
Utah State University Logan, Utah
University of Idaho Moscow, ID
University of Arizona Tuscon, AZ

Also, just heard of Bellevue College in Washington; but doesn’t look like they have many BA programs.

Does anyone have any experience with the above programs, merit scholarships, successes, mistakes or failures? Good, Bad or Ugly?

Thank you!!!

What about Canadian schools?

Clemson has a program :wink:

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Also, NOVA Southeastern (nova.edu) far away from you, also Kent State, Xavier (both Ohio)
Good luck!!

@Tustumena here is one of the most updated lists Ive seen for ASD support programs. Is she currently receiving accommodations under 504? If so, you can start gathering information for her ADA plan and ASD program application. Some colleges will require updated neuropsychological testing in the last 3 years for acceptance to the ASD program (not ADA), others only ask for a letter from their primary physician listing their diagnoses (ASD, ADD, GAD, etc) and recommended accommodations along with original diagnoses paperwork and a copy of the current 504 plan. Make sure you check directly with both the ASD program office and the ADA office to verify their documentation requirements. Look at the student support services for the general student population, not just for ADA students; if can offer an insight into the school’s approach to student support and success, not just through accommodations. Don’t discount a double room; if she hasn’t already, try a one week summer stem camp at a college. Many flagships offer genetics or bioengineering camps for rising seniors. It’s a great mini trial into the living, social and academic demands of college life. You may be suprised by her experience interacting in a living situation with someone else. Having a camp with a concentration of kids interested in the same subject will give a slight glimpse into the college experience. Another thing to consider would be looking for schools with club swim teams; it could be a great way to help with the transition. Nothing helps with PT and anxiety like swimming; best sport ever, but I’m a little biased.
As far as autism research programs, make sure she investigates the programs to see how she feels about the research being conducted at each university. There are (very generally speaking) two “camps;” one that is currently researching Crispr to identify genes and “treat/cure” ASD ( some privately funded research institutions) and another that is researching ways to better support those on the spectrum (many public institutions consulting with Temple Grandin and others on the spectrum, etc). This can be very difficult for some on the spectrum when faced with research designed to eliminate their own diagnosis. Merit scholarships would obviously vary from school to school, but would be separate from any diagnosis. Terminology; not sure how involved she is in the ASD community. Again there are two (very generally speaking) camps; one that uses the people first terminology of person with autism (generally used by parents who don’t want others to hear the label first, and one that prefers to use autistic, fully embracing the good and challenging traits of the ASD diagnosis (often used by older teens and young adults) Aspergers is a term eliminated under the current DSM. I know it’s semantics, as diagnoses in the early 2000s included aspergers; however, like the deaf community there are many within the ASD community who have a “culture” and identity within the diagnosis. If she hasn’t been involved in the ASD community, it could help to research the various approaches if she’s considering studying the spectrum in college. It could also be helpful for her to research various colleges and their approaches to/collaboration with the ASD community. Hope this helps!



What kind of budget do you have to work with? Have you run any of the Net Price Calculators at the websites of the places currently on your list?

Some good LACs might be worth looking at even if they don’t specifically state that they have autism support programs. For example, Bryn Mawr has lots of single rooms, so it isn’t unusual at all for a freshman to be in one.

Florida Tech has a big program in psychology/autism studies (with the Scott Autism center and Doug Flutie on the board). I don’t know if there are specific supports for students with autism but there are a lot of supports of all kinds for students. My daughter was in engineering but one of her best friends was in the psych program and now has a masters from Florida Tech.

I don’t know how long it takes to get from Alaska to Orlando, but then it is 45 minutes to Melbourne.

The school has a gorgeous outdoor swimming pool, and of course an ocean right there to swim in too.

It is a long way. I think I’d be looking at schools in Washington state or Canada.

Have you talked to your D about how she might respond to being at a large, urban university far from home (Drexel, for example)? How is she likely to respond to a big increase in sensory stimulation (traffic, noise, crowds, lights, odors)?

I agree that LACs might be worth a look. Maybe check out the neuroscience program at Pitzer College (http://pzacad.pitzer.edu/tborowsk/). If it looks interesting, you may want to run the school’s online net price calculator.

Scripps College (women only) is another member of the Claremont Colleges consortium.

Hello All,

Thank you for your replies! I am new to this forum and can’t seem to figure out how to reply individually so I’ll replay best I can to all :slight_smile:

@chmcnm , Although Canada seems like it would be close; we live in a rural community of 5000 and are located about a 20 hour drive from the Canadian border so it’s not as close as it would seem:)

@CALMom65 , Thank you I will check out Clemson! Do you know someone who attended here. What did they like or dislike? Also, I just checkout Kent State and they offer a BA in Special education with a minor in autism; so that might be something she interested in! especially with a support program. Thank you!

@Tigerwife92 , Thank you for your the new an improved list; there are many on there I have never heard of! She does have an IEP not a 504 and a recent ERSA, but I did hear that she many need a new evaluation for some of the support programs we are looking at. I like the idea of a genetics or bioengineering summer camp to see how the living environment would effect her. She and her sisters shared a room for 13 years; but now she enjoys the privacy of her own small room and a place where she can get away. She definitely has opinions on “curing autism” and research that that identify genes contributing to ASD and try to “treat or cure” ASD. It is something that she strongly opposes including some ABA therapy. I think that is why she is interested in getting involved in Autism Studies as she fully embraces her ASD and uniqueness and hopes to contribute to a supportive culture that will embrace everything that ASD individuals offer. I appreciate that you brought that up because I think she would be very unhappy in a program that would strive to “cure” her. Thanks again for the list. I noticed that Stanford is on the list. Her counselor recently told her she thought she should apply there; but I didn’t realize they had a support program. Do you know anyone that has attended there by chance?

@happymomof1 , Thank you for your reply! Our budge is approximately $15k per year; however, we have 3 children 1 year apart so we are hoping her counselors are correct and that she may be able to get merit scholarships based on her grades and SAT. I’ll check out those net calculators your talking about.

@twoinanddone , I will definitely check out Florida Tech; she has cousins just 40 minutes from Orlando so that might be good. It’s about 18 hours from our home to Orlando between flying and driving but its doable with Alaska Airlines. I didn’t know they had a autism studies program there; the only ones I have found so far now are at St Josephs in Philadelphia, one in Utah Valley and I just learned about one at Kent State; so this is good. I will check it out! What kind of housing did your daughter have there?
Thank you!

@tk21769 , Thank you for the links to the Keck Neuroscience Program, I just showed it to her and she is intrigued. We have talked minimally about large verses smaller colleges the issue is she really has no way to really know the difference. We live in a small town of 5.000 people so I don’t think she understand fully what a campus of say 24,000 students at Drexel would look like. We are visiting George Mason, Drexel, St Josephs, Eastern, and Fairleigh over spring break the smallest being Eastern with about 1500 students to kind of get an idea. She is pretty good at compartmentalizing using head phones at times and tuning out what she can. However, she does not do well with crowds and sirens; with a little space she is good. We hope to visit others this summer and hopefully narrow it down by this Fall/Christmas. It just seems like most of the programs that have been around for awhile and have good reviews are on the east coast while the west coast programs are newer and less known. I attend the Merchant Marine Academy in California and sailed for 15 years. I have a shipmate that sailed on a research vessel out of San Diego with Scripts for many years before she became a Master and later went ashore:)

Thank you again for all the responses; I would love to hear from anyone that has experience with any of these programs or knows a student that has experienced one of them.

Thank you!

Here’s the cold shower: every single element you have mentioned as preferences will have to yield to the reality that you need nearly full scholarships. For example, a 1440 SAT + 4.0 GPA will get you tuition + 1 years R&B at the University of Alabama; your cost for years 2/3/4 will be about $15K. So, you can afford the University of Alabama, and she would get in. There’s your first safety. Now you have to look for more, and it will not be easy,

Take a hard look at the list of WUE schools: they are your best bet for affordability.

George Mason is a public university, and you are not going to get the kind of aid/scholarship money that will bring $54K OOS down to $15K.

Drexel is $70K CoA. The average need-based aid last year was $33K. Only 33 students got athletic or academic merit money (they don’t separate out the two categories), and the average amount was also $33K. A quarter of last years incoming class had the same or higher SAT as your daughter. So, either via need-based or merit aid, you won’t get enough to make Drexel affordable.

I’m sorry to rain on your parade, but it is worse to get everybody excited about great programs that simply aren’t affordable.

I agree that the WUE schools would get the pricing closer to what you have in mind.

In addition to looking for Autism Studies as a major, I would suggest that she open her search to include Special Education and/or Behavioral neurosciences.
Be sure to go into the departmental pages on the schools’ web sites and check out what courses are on offer in the majors she’s looking at, and what she would be required to take for graduation.
One of my favorite WUE schools is Western Washington U in beautiful Bellingham, which has an interesting, well-developed program:

Two other WUE schools that have great ASD support are U Montana in Missoula, and U Idaho in Moscow, although I’m not sure if they would have the major focus she’s looking for.

@collegemom3717 ,
Thank you for your reply and I appreciate your frankness. Better to be realistic. The WUE schools definitely look like the best bet for our budget, although University of Alabama might be a good option. I have University of Arizona and University of Idaho on our list that have ASD programs and are WUE schools that would provide in-state tuition to an Alaskan student. She qualified for the National Merit Scholarship but not sure if she will make the final cuts as she was in the top 2 % not the top 1%; but still holding out hope since Alaska’s population is pretty small comparability. If she makes the cut then that will help.

We are excited to visit George Mason and Drexel to see what’s out there. However, realistically one of the WUE schools will definitely better fit our budget unless we dip into retirement funds. Thanks so much for your response! I appreciate it!

@hop, Thank you for mentioning Bellingham! I used to sail out of there years ago with the Alaska Marine Highway. I had know idea that they had a program and will definitely look into it. It is a beautiful area! We do have U of Idaho on our list but haven’t talked to anyone that has actually attended there. I like that it would be easy to travel there from Alaska. We are just looking into the course requirements that are required for most of the programs she interested in. The only one we are really unsure of is whether she should take Physics or Psychology her senior year. If she goes into genetics or neuroscience it looks like she should take Physics; if she goes into Autism Studies then looks like Psychology would be more important. She will have a busy senior year with pre-calc, AP LA , US Gov, Spanish, and either Physics or Psychology. Counselor said she can wait and till it gets closer to see if she has decided on one direction or the other. It seems like thinks are speeding along way too fast! She qualifies to stay and become a super-senior and maybe take some college classes at the community college as a super senior (extra year) in high school but I’m not sure how that works for merit scholarships, etc. On one hand I don’t want to hold her back and on the other I want to make sure she is in an environment where she can succeed:) When we visit about it she is pretty open minded but I can tell she has no idea what to expect. Anyway, Thanks again for your response!

Sorry this is months later than your question. I was looking for a neighbor.

My son just finished his first year at Texas Tech in the CASE program. He has thrived there. We are in Texas, so in-state tuition BUT once my son became a National Merit Finalist and had put Texas Tech as his first choice, he got scholarships that cover everything. I know that an Alaska resident won’t get everything covered, but if she gets as far as finalist for the National Merit then Texas Tech might become affordable. I don’t know if the CASE program would be affordable. During his senior year of high school, I got my son into the Texas Workforce Commission for services and they cover the cost of the CASE program–it’s considered job training. Alaska’s version might cover it? I would definitely look into it now so you can see if it’s even an option.

One more thing to think about. The program I mentioned for Texas Tech (TTU) also operates at the local community college–so if you have to pay out-of-state tuition, maybe do the CC first and then transfer over to TTU? If Texas isn’t too far. You indicated that you cannot move with her, but if I got that part wrong, a young lady that went to a private school here where I live for kids on the spectrum will be in the CASE program at TTU and her family is moving there with her (I suspect they’re getting permission for her to live at home). Lots to think about. Please keep us posted on where she does end up. :slight_smile:

Florida Tech has a freshman village which is all suites. There are 4 suites to a landing (sort of like a motel with outside stairways (it is Florida). Each suite then has a living room, kitchette, and a hallway with 3 single rooms and a 4th room on the end. Across from the rooms is a double bathroom with sinks and then two rooms with toilets/showers. My daughter LOVED that she had her own room (her roommates were slobs). She had the room on the end so it worked out for her.

95% of the freshmen live in the village, but there is one standard dorm on campus where they can live. It has an assortment of singles, doubles, bathrooms attached, hall bathrooms. The singles w/ own bath are significantly more expensive. There is international student housing (very traditional dorms) and there is an upperclassman complex with singles, doubles, triples and quads very similar to the freshman village.

I think you’ll find many schools have quite an option for singles or single rooms in suites. If you find the right school, you’ll find a way to make the housing work.

My friend has autism and she needed a single room. The LLC she wanted didn’t have any singles so she lived on the floor above the LLC. She did miss out on some activities because she wasn’t living right with the rest of the group.

BTW, take physics in hs rather than psych. Much harder to catch up in physics than psych.

Just throwing in my two cents. I have a friend in AZ whose son is on the spectrum and above average smart. They took the extra year of high school and did half high school and half community college. This extra year has been critical. Last year he was still noticeably autistic in terms of communication in both educational and social situations. With the extra year and easing into college, a stranger would not know he was autistic. Not that it matters what strangers think but him knowing he can handle himself and that his quirkiness is fine or even cool and him knowing he could function on his own, has been really important. He can now enter college with a 504 (instead of an IEP) and no particular accommodations. If you have a community college nearby, that might be another option.