There are no two ways about it: sending a child off to college is tough. Aside from monetary concerns like tuition, the dorm, books, and other living expenses, there is also the emotional strain of releasing your long-time dependent into the world on their own, knowing that this is their sink or swim moment and hoping that you have imparted all of the valuable knowledge and skills they will need to succeed. But if you’re a parent of a child (now an adult) with autism, shipping them to college can be even more stressful. Even if they’re highly functional, you no doubt have several additional concerns about how they will handle their new environment (both academic and social), if they will be able to care for themselves (in terms of both health and time management), and what kinds of services are available to help them make the transition to college life and get everything they can out of a higher education. However, there are ways to reduce your anxiety (and theirs) and find all of the information and services you need to make secondary education viable and valuable for your child.
In some cases, kids with special needs will stay close to home, attending local schools while continuing to live with parents or other relatives. This is an ideal situation not only for college kids in general (who will save a bundle on living expenses and probably tuition), but especially for those with autism, who often thrive on routine and deplore change. This way they can keep the comforts of home, including their support network of family, friends, and doctors while easing into a new situation. This will greatly reduce everyone’s stress level and give your child the best chance to stick it out. Plus, keeping your child living at home will allow you to monitor their eating, sleeping, and study habits, something that would be entirely impossible to observe in their absence and that could make a huge difference in how well they continue to function in their new environment.
Many colleges also offer supportive services for students with autism, although it is something you will have to find out on a school-by-school basis. Assistance for students with disorders often includes counseling and general health services, but may also cover allowances for class participation, such as additional time for exams and in-class note-takers. But even before you begin to concern yourself with such issues as which school will be chosen and what bonuses it offers for your child in particular, you must consider some prerequisites. Namely, does your child want to attend college and how can you best help them prepare?
In this arena, there are several books that can help you, such as Realizing the College Dream with Autism or Asperger Syndrome: A Parent’s Guide to Student Success by Ann Palmer and Aquamarine Blue 5: Personal Stories of College Students with Autism, edited by Dawn Prince-Hughes. But a little common sense can also go a long way. You will first want to determine your child’s strengths and weaknesses (in terms of both coursework and habits) and attempt to correct them before college. Then you may want to consider what type of school is best suited to both their academic and social level as well as their interests. Finally, you should determine their readiness to leave home, both physically and emotionally. A little preparation can go a long way towards making a difficult situation a lot easier on everyone, so before you start filling out applications, plan a course that will get your autistic child on the right track for collegiate success.