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C ollege Transition for Students On The Autism Spectrum: Integrating Interdisciplinary Perspectives From Personal Experience, Research, & Autistic Self-Advocacy. Scott Michael Robertson Ph.D. Candidate (IST) Penn State University

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scott michael robertson ph d candidate ist penn state university srobertson@ist psu edu

College Transition for Students On The Autism Spectrum: Integrating Interdisciplinary Perspectives From Personal Experience, Research, & Autistic Self-Advocacy

Scott Michael Robertson

Ph.D. Candidate (IST)

Penn State University

my contact information
My Contact Information
  • Email:
    • Email Address:
    • Subject Line: include the word asperger or autism
  • Instant Messaging:
    • AOL Instant Messenger: hppalm
    • MSN/Windows Live:
    • Yahoo Messenger: psuresearcher
    • Google Talk:
  • Available on Facebook
  • Mobile Phone:
    • Available upon request
rapid rundown
Rapid Rundown
  • My Background
  • My Connection & Perspective on Autism
  • College & Autism
  • My Research on College & Autism
quick note penn autism network conf 08
Quick Note:Penn Autism Network Conf. ‘08
  • Friday, March 28, 2008 [8:30-4:30 pm]
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • 3 Session Tracks:
    • Postsec. Education, Employment, & Housing
  • Website:
  • I’ll likely be presenting on college & autism
quick note aspen spring conference 08
Quick Note:ASPEN Spring Conference ‘08
  • Sunday, April 6 (all day)
  • Iselin, NJ
  • Session Topics:
    • Transition, College, Relationships, Job Search & Interview Skills, Autistic Student Panel
  • Website:
  • I’ll be presenting on college & autism
the autism spectrum my background
The Autism Spectrum:My Background
  • 27 years old
  • Asperger’s Autistic Adult
  • Ph.D. Student at Penn State
    • Work: TA/Teaching Fellow
    • Studies: Dissertation Research on autism & college
the autism spectrum my complimentary hats
The Autism Spectrum:My Complimentary “Hats”
  • Autistic Adult (Asperger’s Autistic)
  • Presenter
    • e.g. Opening Keynote for 2007 PSU Natl. Autism Conference (July 2007)
  • Researcher
    • e.g. Dissertation Focus on online technology support for transition to college for autistic students
  • Self-Advocate/Advocate
    • e.g. The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, ASCEND, service work for PA state Bureau of Autism Services
  • Teacher
    • e.g. State College Autistic Teen Social Group, Pittsburgh summer program, etc.
  • Friend & Mentor To Many Autistic Individuals
the autism spectrum my perspective
The Autism Spectrum:My Perspective:
  • Differential Way of Understanding & Interacting w/ the World
  • Lifelong Brain Differences:
    • Language, Communication, & Social Understanding
    • Sensory Integration & Motor Action
    • Executive Thinking
the autism spectrum rivers flowing north
The Autism Spectrum:Rivers Flowing North
  • "To many Americans . . . , north is the wrong way for a river to flow, which leads to geographic confusion."
    • Angus Phillips, National Geographic, 1996
the autism spectrum 3 n flowing rivers
The Autism Spectrum:3 N. Flowing Rivers
  • Three Rivers flow north in U.S.
  • Two of these are:
    • St. John’s River in Florida
    • Willamette River in Oregon
  • Can you name the third?
    • [Hint: It’s in Pennsylvania]
the autism spectrum pa n flowing river
The Autism Spectrum:PA N. Flowing River
  • The Mongongahela River:
    • Flows from West Virginia thru Morgantown, crossing the Mason Dixon line, & continuing into Pittsburgh (joins w/ the Alleghany River to form the confluence known as the Ohio River)
    • Flows more directly straight north than the other 2 north flowing rivers in the U.S.
    • Origin: American Indian for “high banks or bluffs”
the autism spectrum challenge support
The Autism Spectrum:Challenge & Support
  • Main Challenge:
    • Living in an Autistic Unfriendly World
    • Sensory Bombardment, Social Ambiguities, Information Overload, etc.
    • Lack of Understanding & Acceptance
  • Support:
    • Best w/ a two-way street
    • Individual Learns to Adapt
    • Society Accommodates Differences
the autism spectrum quotes from autistic teens
The Autism Spectrum:Quotes from Autistic Teens

“It all started in elementary school when I realized that I wasn't like everyone else....I might be different because I have different interests than other teenagers, but that doesn’t give them the right to be so mean and cruel to me. Kids at Oak Valley make fun of me for liking what I like the most.....Sometimes I wish I were like everyone else, but not really. Because I believe people should be respected for being different because we're all different in our own ways.”

--Joshua Yuchasz, autistic teen (Michigan)

[“This I Believe” piece that aired on “All Things Considered”]

the autism spectrum quotes from autistic teens16
The Autism Spectrum:Quotes from Autistic Teens

“I don’t know what normal is, but I know that people like me are the minority...Being different may not be a problem for me, or other kids like me, but it sure seems to cause problems for “normal” (ha!) kids. The result...bullying!...If others would take time to stop and get to know us (autistic teens), then they would see that we have a lot to offer.”

Luke Jackson, autistic teen (U.K.)

my lessons learned thru life
My Lessons Learned Thru Life
  • Dogged Determination & Tenacity Reap Valuable Rewards
  • Passions Light the Path
  • Heart Comes From Helping Others
  • Power Comes From Present-Focus
  • Growth Comes From Lifelong Learning
  • Trust Your Brain
college autism some quotes from autistic adults
College & Autism:Some Quotes from Autistic Adults
  • “At college I met people who appreciate me for who I was instead of making fun of what was different about me.” –Steven Shore
  • “College is a tremendous opportunity for many individuals on the autistic spectrum”

–Lars Perner

college autism
College & Autism
  • Major Media Attention
  • Applying To College
  • Planning & Preparation
  • My Research on Autism & College
college autism major media attention
College & Autism: Major Media Attention
  • “Students On The Spectrum”, The New York Times, Nov. 2006
  • “Asperger’s Confounds Colleges”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 2004
  • “An Asperger’s Life”, The Billings Gazette, April 2004
  • “A Chance For Autistic Students”, The Times Union (Albany), April 2004
  • “Growing Number of Autistics Want To Complete College Education”, Associated Press, March 2007
college autism applying to college
College & Autism:Applying to College
  • Student-Driven Process
  • Stay Open-minded & Flexible
  • Consider Many Factors & Options
college autism admissions considerations
College & Autism:Admissions Considerations
  • Campus Environment
    • Size of College/University
    • Physical & Social Environment
    • Class Sizes
  • Disability Services
  • Location
  • Academics & Majors
  • Housing Options
  • Costs
college autism tradeoffs large vs small
College & Autism:Tradeoffs: Large vs. Small
  • Smaller School
    • Smaller Campus (Easier to Navigate)
    • Smaller Classes
    • Less Overwhelming
  • Larger School
    • Less Visibility of Differences
    • More Diversity
    • More Opportunities for Similar Interests (More Extra-curriculars & Clubs)
college autism strategies for success
College & Autism:Strategies for Success
  • Regular Counseling Sessions
  • Finding Clubs/Activities That Fit
  • Peer Mentoring
  • Educating course professors about autism/Asperger’s
  • Pre-Preparation & Planning
college autism preparations planning
College & Autism:Preparations & Planning
  • Major Focuses
    • Self-Advocacy Skills
    • College-Related Living Skills
    • College Physical/Social Environment
  • Suggestions
    • Keep an ongoing notebook/binder
    • Stay individualized and student-driven
    • Tailor Planning to Specific College Experience
    • Use All Resources Available
college autism developing self advocacy skills
College & Autism:Developing Self-Advocacy Skills
  • Student-Driven IEP Process
  • Ownership of differences/disability
  • Encouraging Self-Advocacy for Home Needs
    • Work together on tasks
    • Gradually lessen degree of support
    • IEP for the Home
  • Community Service & Volunteering Activities
    • e.g. Special Olympics, community centers
  • Encourage Speaking/Writing about Personal Experiences & Perspective
  • Attending conferences/discussions about autism
an autism conference run by autistic individuals autreat
An Autism Conference Run by Autistic Individuals: Autreat
  • Annual retreat-style conference run by autistic adults for autistic adults, teens, children
  • Autistic friendly physical environment
    • No smoking, no perfumes, no scented deodorant
    • Open space to walk around, relax
  • Autistic friendly social environment
    • Colored badges indicating social preferences
      • Red: don’t want to communicate
      • Yellow: I have trouble communicating & may need you to initiate
      • Green: I desire a large amt. of interaction (because I don’t know anyone)
  • Autistics are the vast majority of attendees
  • Website: <>
college autism developing college life skills
College & Autism:Developing College Life Skills
  • Time/Schedule/Organization Skills
  • Dorm/Housing Skills
    • e.g. Laundry, Meals, Health-Related
  • Academic Mgmt. Skills
  • Traveling Skills
  • Safety Skills
  • Financial Mgmt. Skills
college autism time schedule organization
College & Autism:Time/Schedule/Organization
  • Day Planner/PDA + Calendar for home/school activities
  • Alarms for Waking Up
  • Establishing Organized Routines
  • Wearing a Watch 24/7
  • Using Software Tools
    • Microsoft Excel & Word for making lists
  • Using/Carrying a Cellphone 24/7
college autism dorm housing skills
College & Autism:Dorm/Housing Skills
  • Laundry
    • Washing machine/dryer & folding clothes
    • Practice w/ many types of clothes
    • Orientation to coin/card operation of machines
  • Meals/Eating
    • Cooperative Meal Planning @ home
    • Discussion of Nutritious Foods That Fit Likes/Dislikes
  • Health-Related
    • Make a Notebook of Health Needs & Routines
    • May need guided steps/posters/videos
    • Clothing Match w/ Weather
  • Roommate
    • May want to consider option of a single room
college autism dorm housing skills cont
College & Autism:Dorm/Housing Skills (Cont.)
  • Social Environment (of living space)
    • Make a Notebook of common social situations
    • Have discussions about the social env.
    • Chat w/ current college freshmen/sophomores
  • Physical Environment (of living space)
    • Organization structures for room
    • Consideration of sensory differences
    • Can model a dorm room @ home
college autism academic mgmt skills
College & Autism:Academic Mgmt. Skills
  • Organize Work Thru The Computer
    • Electronic organization may be easier than physical organization
  • Study Skills
    • Actively ask questions about material & look through book/material on ongoing basis
    • Breaking schoolwork/studying into chunks (20-50 min. periods w/ breaks)
    • Practice w/ putting together a review sheet of material
    • Practice w/ asking others for help on schoolwork
college autism traveling skills
College & Autism:Traveling Skills
  • Practice w/ Long Distance Traveling Skills
  • Open-ended vouchers/tickets for bus/train/airplane long distance traveling
    • Visit home when they feel the need
  • Practice w/ Local Traveling Skills
    • Walking Routes/Bus/Local Train
financial mgmt skills
Financial Mgmt. Skills
  • Explain rules of credit card & practice w/ credit card w/ low limit ($50 or $100)
  • Practice w/ Using ATMs
college autism my research
College & Autism:My Research
  • My Ph.D. Dissertation Research
    • College of Information Sciences & Technology, Penn State
    • Interdisciplinary Research on Problems Integrating Information, Technology, People
  • Online Community Can Support Emergence of CoP for Autism & Postsec. Education
    • Information: Best Practices, Approaches, Resources
    • People: Autistic Students, Educators, Parents
    • Technology: Online community (threaded discussion board, blogging, podcasts, IM, email lists, etc.)
  • Qualitative Informatory Research
my research emerging community of practice
My Research:Emerging Community of Practice
  • Community of Practice
    • Community of Organizations coming together to network, learn from each other, & share resources to develop better best practices for work area
  • Penn Autism Network’s College CoP
    • Spearheaded by University of Pennsylvania
    • 25+ Colleges & Universities
      • PA, NJ, NY, CT, MA, MN
    • Penn Autism Network 2008 Conf. Session Track
my research qualitative interviews
My Research:Qualitative Interviews
  • Interviews w/ key stakeholder groups
    • Postsecondary Autistic Students
    • Secondary Educators
    • Postsecondary Autistic Students
    • Secondary Autistic Students
closing quote
Closing Quote
  • “All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wonder are lost; The old that is strong does not wither. Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
postsec education autism resources video audio
Postsec. Education & AutismResources/Video & Audio
  • Pesner, J. “Autism From The Source—A Monologue by Jeremy Pesner”,
  • BRAIN.HE (UK),
  • Western Kentucky University: “WKU Kelly Autism Residence Program”,
postsec education autism resources video audio cont
Postsec. Education & AutismResources/Video & Audio (Cont.)
  • “College Professors & HFA In The Classroom”
    • <


  • Mentoring & AS/HFA in College
    • <


  • “Aspergers After College”


postsec education autism resources books
Postsec. Education & Autism:Resources/Books
  • Prince-Hughes, D. Aquamarine Blue 5: Personal Stories Of College Students With Autism
  • Palmer, A. Realizing The College Dream With Autism and Asperger Syndrome
  • Harpur, J., Lawlor, M., & Fitzgerald, M. Succeeding In College With Asperger Syndrome
  • Jamieson, J. & Jamieson, C. Managing Asperger Syndrome at College & University
  • “Towards Success In Tiertary Study With Asperger Syndrome and Other Autistic Spectrum Disorders”, <


    • freely downloadable
postsec education autism resources online articles
Postsec. Education & Autism:Resources/Online Articles
  • Perner, L. “Preparing To Be Nerdy Where Nerdy Can Be Cool”,
  • Coulter, J. “First Year At College: Lessons Learned”, <>
  • Williams, G. & Palmer, A. “Preparing For College: Tips For Students With HFA/Asperger’s Syndrome”, <>
  • Coulter, J. “Asperger Syndrome & Choosing College Courses”,
postsec education autism resources online sites
Postsec. Education & AutismResources/Online Sites
  • University Students With Autism or Asperger Syndrome,
  • Facebook Groups,
  • Wrong Planet: