Information on Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum is a term used to describe people with a set of related neurological differences involving sometimes strengths and sometimes challenges. A word that is sometimes used to describe people on the autism spectrum is neurodiverse, and diagnoses include

  • Autism
  • High-functioning autism

  • Asperger syndrome

  • Pervasive developmental disorder

  • Non-verbal learning disability

Why would someone seek a diagnosis or tell people about it?

All people on the autism spectrum have unique abilities and strengths as well as challenges. Having and disclosing a diagnosis may be necessary in order to:

  • Get accommodations for school or work
  • Access supportive services or government programs for people with disabilities
  • Use Disability Services supports during school
  • Information and support can be helpful in order to:
  • Understand how your brain works
  • Be able to understand and ask for what you need, or self-advocate
  • Figure out ways to do things that are difficult
  • Know your strengths and build on them
  • Be more effective in friendships, families, and other kinds of relationships

How does being on the autism spectrum affect day-to-day life?

People on the autism spectrum often have the ability to concentrate intensely. They are often quite interested in specific topics or activities and may have difficulty outside of those areas. Often people on the spectrum are very good at understanding complex systems and patterns. Sometimes people on the spectrum are more sensitive to details, and may notice important things that others miss. Because of their unique talents, people on the spectrum can thrive in their chosen fields.

People on the autism spectrum also face challenges:

  • Communication difficulties are common. People on the spectrum often prefer to communicate in honest and straight-forward ways. Some peopleon the spectrum have difficulty with sarcasm, dishonesty, or arbitrary social conventions.
  • Facial expressions or social cues may be difficult to perceive or understand accurately. Misunderstandings can happen in both directions, as the tone of voice or facial expressions of people on the spectrum may be misinterpreted by others.
  • Social andsensory challenges can make relationships (including friendships and intimate relationships) difficult to start and keep going. Once a relationship has been formed, people on the spectrum are often very loyal.
  • Sensory or movement processing may vary. For example some people find that sensations are extra intense, hard to detect, or scrambled. Movement can be affected in similar ways. Many people on the autistic spectrum with sensory differences experience difficulties with anxiety, being startled, or panic.

This often happens for people who experience intensified or scrambled sensory input, because the brain confuses the input for a threat and reacts as though the person is in danger. When combined with social differences, this can cause difficulties with relating to other people who enjoy surprises, loud music, or other overwhelming sensations.

What are some issues people on the autism spectrum face in college?

  • Building a working routine can be difficult for all new students at college, and can be especially challenging for people on the spectrum. Figuring out what housing arrangements work best for each student is very important. Housing options involve different types of social interaction, amount of support, degree of control over the environment, and whether or not activities such as bathing and dining occur in shared spaces.
  • During college, students on the autism spectrum may face academic or social challenges in addition to learning to handle issues of daily life as adults.

  • Gender and sexuality are often developmental issues for college students. These are common concerns that everyone faces which can be more complicated for people on the autism spectrum.
  • Linking college experiences to after-college plans can help students on the spectrum make the most of college and ease the transition out of college as well. Disability Services and Career Services may help students gain useful skills and experiences such as learning how to request needed accommodations, or learning how to handle group projects in class may make it easier to work with others in later jobs

What are academic concerns of people on the autism spectrum?

People on the autism spectrum may be used toexcelling academically but find that some of the shifts in requirements in college are challenging. New study skills may be needed. In college, much more learning takes place outside of the classroom than in high school.

  • Learning to use the syllabus to identify class responsibilities and planning how to achieve large or long-term tasks.
  • Sometimes a lot of reading is assigned that it is not realistic to carefully read everything. The challenge is to learn how to identify which parts are most important to read in order to learn necessary information and concepts.
  • A common pattern is for people on the spectrum to excel in classes that capture their interest and to have more difficulty in core classes that are of less interest to them. For some people, this is more than simple boredom or disinterest—it may be difficult to make sense of information that is less personally relevant.
  • Tutoring can be useful when academic challenges arise.
  • Making contact with an academic advisor early on can help in navigating requirements. Advisors may be able to help students find classes that are both interesting and meet requirements.
  • Learning how independent study works and strategically using this option to address required skills and content areas from a comfortable perspective can be helpful.

Disability Services can help students work with professors to access needed accommodations while still meeting the course requirements. Because neurological differences affect different people differently, the specific accommodations needed will vary by student and by class.

How do people on the autism spectrum connect with community and peers?

Given that communication is often challenging for students on the autism spectrum, connecting with community and peers can be difficult. Some students join student organizations, especially those that share a common interest such as student organizations interested in science, technology, music, theater or social justice.

Why can food be an important issue for people on the autism spectrum?

People on the autism spectrum often have difficulty with food such as food allergies or sensitivities to pesticides and food additives. Unfortunately, students have little control over what food is offered in dining halls or how it is prepared. Some find particular textures or flavors challenging and may not be able to eat certain foods. Foods also have different flavors and textures depending upon how they are prepared or whether they are prepared with other foods. Some people have difficulty with chewing, possibly related to movement and sensation difficulties in the face or ears. These challenges can lead to poor nutrition and digestive problems. There are many individual factors that influence how a person on the autism spectrum experiences food. If this is an area of concern, consulting with a nutritionist who has experience with autism spectrum issues could be helpful.



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