HOW TO BEST SUPPORT HIGH FUNCTIONING AUTISTIC/ASPERGER SYNDROME STUDENTS TRANSITION FROM HIGH SCHOOL TO POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION: A CANADIAN MODEL
York University, Glendon College (CANADA)
Despite their challenges, in Canada, a growing number of high functioning students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (HFASD) or Asperger syndrome (AS) transition from high school to university. In order for them to succeed, there is a need for a strong cooperation between them, their families and the university as it provides a place where these students will have the opportunity to fully develop not only academically, but also socially, emotionally and physically.
Indeed, because the HF ASD/AS individuals need to improve on their social abilities, their social communication and their life skills, the university provides them with the opportunity to join clubs and social groups, to make new friends, to mentor other students, etc. Such groups offer them the opportunity to use the pragmatics of social communication and social interaction that will trigger and facilitate their overall development as Vygotsky, a contemporary of Piaget, stated.
While at university, these students can improve their physical skills by joining the gymnasium, and hire a personal trainer. Indeed, physical exercise is particularly important for this population as it helps them get rid of the constant stress they endure, and helps them improve on their physical self-awareness, their posture, gait, flexibility, motor clumsiness, low muscle tone, etc. which they have difficulties with.
Because of the intense feeling of anxiety as well as the greater risk of depression ASD/AS individuals experience, it is important to monitor their emotional well-being, and ensure that the support they receive is sufficient.
The question of whether or not these students should live on campus is a crucial one as living in residence is an ideal middle stage between life at home and life on their own. Staying home helps with the transition from high school to university as families can monitor them, and quickly address major issues. But life in residence can be a good option towards an independent life as long as students disclose their disability and ask for the accommodations needed.
And for them to be properly supported, they need to learn how to self-advocate which is totally foreign to them. To do so, they need to explain their university counsellors the nature of their disability, and what their strengths and needs are (academic, social, psychological, etc.) as it is during this initial meeting that a list of classroom accommodations will be decided.
And because most professors are willing to support their students with special needs but they are not familiar with Autism, an efficient tool for the students to prepare is a short and concise document where they will disclose their disability, their strengths, their challenges (anxiety, difficulties with communication, difficulties with processing and understanding written and oral information, mannerisms, difficulty with group work, etc.), and how to be best helped (tape recording classes, flexible deadlines, note taking, alternative exams, etc.).
To illustrate how all the above needs can be met, we will present how York University (Toronto, Canada) through its Counselling and Disability Services, and its Mentorship program provides a good model of inclusiveness that other universities are starting to emulate.