If you are listening to the college chatter going on among parents of high school students, stop. Let go of what schools your friends’ kids and neighbors’ kids are applying to. Let go of your preconceived notions of which are good colleges and which are not. Let go of dreams about a second generation at your alma mater. What’s best for your child is likely not what’s best for others, whether they have Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) or not.
Focus on Fit
Fit is the most important attribute to look for when searching for colleges for your child to apply to and the one to attend. As you investigate options, tune out superfluous inputs and listen to your child, to your gut, and to answers to objective criteria. Here are a few considerations to think about. Many of these are exactly the same considerations students without AS should focus on.
- Residential college or commuter school – which is the best first step for your child? (See previous post: Assessing College-Readiness for Teens with Asperger’s Syndrome to determine if your child is independent enough to live at college.)
- Is full time or part-time a better choice?
- What is the best distance for your child to be from home even if they are ready to live on campus?
- What is the best type of campus environment: urban, suburban, rural?
- What is the best size of school?
- Does the school have strong offerings in your child’s academic areas of interest?
- Are most classes lecture-style or discussion-based– and which suits your child best?
- What is the minimum requirement for a full-time course load and what are the distribution requirements – do they fit with your child’s aptitudes?
- Does the school have co-curricular opportunities that match your child’s interests?
- Have students with AS attended the college?
- Does the school have special programs for students with AS? (Do not make this the top priority, for support services alone do not constitute best fit.)
- Does the college have an active career services department that helps students get on-the-job experience?
- Do the disabilities service staffers work with the career service staffers?
- What are the housing options – does the college have singles or living/learning communities?
As you and your teen visit schools, bring along a matrix to keep track of the criteria you determine important.
Meet Key Personnel at Schools
Make time to speak to the Office of Disabilities at schools of interest, perhaps before your teen applies, but definitely before he or she accepts admission at any school. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act mandate equal opportunity for students with disabilities for both academic and extracurricular activities, it is important to learn about accommodations and supports directly from the professionals overseeing their implementation. Meeting face-to-face will also help you and your teen gauge what it will be like to work with these individuals.
For more information about college selection, visit Asperger’s Association of New England at www.aane.org or call 617-393-3824. Also, read The Parents Guide to College for Students on the Autism Spectrum, by Jane Thierfeld Brown, Lorraine Wolf, Lisa King, and G. Ruth Bork.