Are you a professional in the Autism Field?

One of my goals in the New Year is to reach out to Autism professionals (advocates, teachers, therapists, program directors and support professionals) to set up speaking engagements related to the subject matter of the book, Remembering the Way.

I’d be delighted to help facilitate conversations about transitioning into adulthood with systems for independent living and higher education.

Here is a guest blog post by a professional I have had the great pleasure and privilege to work with:

Laurie Nederveen of Aspiring Aspies:

Smart Enough to Go to College: Why hiring a campus coach for your student with Autism Spectrum Disorder could be right for you!

It was not that long ago that the idea of a student with autism attending college was surprising to most people. I recall reading Temple Grandin’s book, Thinking in Pictures in 2000 while waiting for a doctor to arrive in the examination room. He saw the book cover and asked about it and was shocked that people like Temple existed. “She’s a professor at Colorado State”???, he said in awe.The last 15+ years certainly has provided better knowledge to the general public about the wide spectrum of autism. Terms like “Asperger’s Syndrome”, “high functioning” autism, and “autism spectrum” are common these days when the topic of autism arises. The media showcases people who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) going to proms, college, working and getting married. The increase in recognition about ASD in general is a positive one; however, despite the amount of information and awareness, there still seems to be a great languish in understanding that high aptitude students still have needs in many areas of adulthood. This is the reason I created my private coaching company, Aspiring Aspies* in 2008. The amount of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder who were floundering or failing out of higher education disturbed me greatly. Often, after failures, these smart adults were living at home with broken egos, a lack of direction, and no job prospects. So, my business focuses on coaching students in high school or college to teach them valuable life skills to help them not only get into college but also graduate! It is the year 2016 and generally the common question from people who learn what I do is not whether a student with ASD could attend college but why they may need supports. Comments like, “well, this person is super high functioning”, “my child is in advanced courses”, or “she had a perfect SAT” have become the new mantra of the misinformed. ** My discomfort is that generally, the common assumption is that success in higher education is a direct product of a student’s IQ: that is not necessarily true IQ does not necessarily predict success in higher education or in life! What I learned my first year of coaching: As I served students already enrolled in college a pattern emerged: they were ill prepared for the difference in skills necessary to succeed in higher education and relied on routines used in high school. Perhaps it was a combination of not having a formal transition plan, accommodations, or just that their parents were a much more intense natural support than anyone recognized. But the outcomes, regardless of the IQ, personality, support systems and collection of ASD core features for students, were becoming more and more predictable. Even students, who had a curriculum assistance course in high school, social groups, or accommodations for college, were not able to perform at the level one would expect given their aptitude. I was realizing that I needed to start working with teens while they were still in high school to properly prepare them. What are measures of success in higher learning? We typically measure “success” in high school through class grades, standardized test grades, school rank, and acceptance into college. Some of these same markers are used in higher education as well but it is important to note that the path to achieving these can vary greatly and there are an abundance of variables to consider. The environment in higher education compared to high school (generally speaking) is much more complex. I think it is important to highlight examples and consider how it may affect an ASD learner. 1. Instead of having an 8am-4pm fully structured day in one campus area, students attend fewer classes during the week with ‘seemingly’ increased free time between classes. They can go relax in their dorm room or back in their residence with all of their comforts and toys. The freedom is intoxicating! But the situation is riddled with issues related to time management and adaptability. Students who are accustomed to working only while they are in “school” or when they are explicitly told to, create habits that do not mesh well in higher education. There are implicit expectations about how much time and effort should go into the learning process and when routines are broken, there is a tendency to focus only on the structured components of the day and ‘forget’ to plot a strategy to manage time wisely. 2. Consider another, less discussed, college-based expectation: active participation. It is expected that in and out of class students will be engaged in the lectures, the studies, and concepts. They will not only pay attention but also keep up with verbal directions and how those may differ from the written syllabus or the periodic emails. Many of the students I coach, even ones that are super smart, have difficulty switching their attention between a lecture and the power point with the course concept information. They may also have trouble turning to pages in their notes and book while taking notes during a lecture. In addition to referencing and multi-tasking skills, there is also an expectation to speak up in class, work cooperatively as a class, and initiate questions either inside or outside of the classroom. My students often attend class and sit quietly listening to lectures to memorize information without taking any notes or recording lectures…why not? It worked in high school. Many students with ASD also tend to only crack open the books when the syllabus specifically lists required homework instead of reviewing information on a daily basis to ensure that they understand concepts. Their issues with integrating verbal and nonverbal information cause them to miss important teaching moments. 3. The last distinction that I will describe is one that I have seen very frequently even from my most verbally expressive and socially wired students. When a problem arises in college, many students with ASD are not comfortable asking for help. They may have made poor grades, experienced confusion about coursework, or be behind deadlines on assignments. Often, a student will be aware that they have an issue but will react by going into ‘paralysis mode’ without telling anyone. It is quite clear by reading the syllabus or just listening to the spiel on the first day of class how willing a professor is to help when problems like these occur. I have helped many students by convincing them to email their professor for extensions, tutoring, and meetings for advice. Once, the professor we emailed went out of her way to help my student drop a class on the last day to avoid an “F” and a fee penalty. Had he waited, his mom would have lost money and his overall GPA would have suffered. He retook the class in the summer when he had more time to focus. In summary, some skills that lead to success in higher education can include adaptability, information integration, initiation, problem solving, executive functioning, and functional communication. Many of these skills have little to do with a student’s IQ and in fact tap directly into the core features of ASD. Advanced preparation is necessary before the first day of school or else it is easy to get behind. A coach can work on development of systems and concepts that do not come naturally to the student. This takes a long time for buy-in from the student who must modify their habits and absorb new concepts. I often recommend starting in the junior or senior year of high school in order to set up enough “runway” for the student to learn new skills without the stress and anxiety of a looming deadline. The amount of resources it takes to hire someone to coach your son or daughter will most likely be less than the cost of dropping or failing college classes that need to be retaken. Also, consider the funding it will take for your child to extend the time it takes to graduate, change majors, or take time off to determine a new path when college life is not going the way everyone anticipated. Early preparation and help from a coach could be the smartest thing you ever did as a parent of someone ‘Smart enough to go to college’! Remember, it is okay to feel proud when your student with ASD blows the curve in geometry class just remember to also focus on teaching life skills, perspective-taking, and flexibility. If trying to teach your teenager this sounds daunting, you may consider hiring a coach!

Laurie Nederveen is the sole proprietor and campus coach for Aspiring Aspies, L.L.C. in Raleigh, NC She can be contacted at

*An “Aspie” is an affectionate term coined by people who have Asperger’s Syndrome.



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