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KSMU is looking into what life is like for adults with autism in the Ozarks. In this second half of the series, KSMU's Shane Franklin takes a look at the unique challenges facing college students with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
Here at the Meyer Library at Missouri State University, students are wrapping up their work for the semester, and preparing for finals. For most students, this time of year can be tense, full of anxious moments in and out of the classroom. With so much pressure to perform well, students are unable to release stress socializing with friends. But for those with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, this can be daily life when participating in higher education.
Dr. Steven Capps directs the Learning Diagnostic Clinic at Missouri State University. He says more than ten students at MSU have self-identified as having ASD, or as he calls it, “On the spectrum.”
He feels that the most difficult thing students on the spectrum face is staying organized enough to keep up with the demanding workload.
“Obviously in college, that’s a big issue. Going from K-12, people are planning, organizing, and time managing your world, and suddenly that’s not the case,” Capps explains.
Capps says within the classroom, the most frequent challenge students with ASD face, is not understanding social queues from their professors. For example, they may not understand idioms, sarcasm, or analogies that professors use to further explain the lesson.
“They are very literal often times. This isn’t related to intelligence; this is just how they perceive their world, and how they interpret things,” Capps says.
For a moment, imagine this: you’re sitting in a university classroom, and the teacher is lecturing. Suddenly, a student interrupts to ask a question. No problem, you think to yourself.
But then they ask another question, and another, and another. Pretty soon, the only person learning in class is the one student with all the questions.
Capps says students with Autism can become fixated on a particular topic: often, they either ask too many questions or they feel like they know more than the professor, and frequently interrupt the professor with corrections.
Both of these scenarios can quickly become frustrating for everyone.
Capps says, at this point, the faculty must mediate between the challenges faced by students with Autism and the needs of other students in the classroom. He suggests a few tips to faculty.
First, he says, to explain to the student that too many interruptions in class is distracting for others. Professors can ask a particular student to write down their questions for later.
Also, Capps suggest that professors allow for extended time on exams and classwork, and to allow test-taking in a place free of distractions.
Often, Autism Spectrum Disorder is coupled with Social-Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders.
“Just like with another student, just work with them, and be patient, and know try to understand that these individuals do have some challenges, but they can certainly survive the post secondary education setting,” says Capps.
Higher education is about more than understanding lessons in class. It’s also about further developing social skills, and according to Capps, this can be incredibly difficult for students on the spectrum.
“As a result of that, sometimes they might appear arrogant or smug, not caring about what you think. That’s not usually the case. I think that people maybe personalize that and think that they’re being smug or arrogant when that is not their intent that is just their style. I think that people will then push them away, thinking that they are just not caring about me. I think that that’s a misperception because often times they do care, they just don’t know how to convey that they do in fact care,” expressed Capps.
Capps says people in his office are already preparing for more students on the Autism Spectrum Disorder, and plan to implement peer to peer programs.
He hopes that by having understanding students acting as mentors, students with ASD can better cope with the challenges faced when pursuing higher education.
For KSMU News, I’m Shane Franklin.