Going to College with Autism | Organization for Autism Research

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Louis Scarantino is an autism self-advocate. In this post, Louis discusses his experience in college, and what he would change if he had the opportunity to return. Louis’ story provides excellent insight on what it is like to attend college as someone on the spectrum.

Every child goes to school from kindergarten through their senior year of high school. Students with autism are in schools everywhere, and, of course, no student with autism is the same – some struggle more than others. If a student with autism is struggling with classes, they are placed in special education classes where they learn the same information at a different pace.

When senior year rolls around, it’s time to focus on everyone’s future – including those with autism. For instance, when my family and I were discussing my future after high school, we felt it was best that I didn’t take SAT’s because I struggled with Math and English – these two subjects make up the majority of the SAT. This decision limited my options for college.

Since I didn’t have any SAT scores, the only way I could attend a university (if I wanted to attend) was if I went to a community college and transferred directly to a university. I felt, however, that a university would have been too hard for me anyways. I knew a couple of community colleges in my area that didn’t require SAT’s to attend. So, I took a placement test for a community college that was only 40 minutes away from my house – and I got in! I was lucky I had a car and a license to commute 5 days a week as the college didn’t have dorms.

There are many individuals with autism who don’t have the capability to attend college after high school and there are many students with autism who don’t wish to continue their education. However, you’d be surprised of how many kids with autism who dream of going to college.

In a high school special education system, self-advocates receive program modifications to their academic curriculum. But that’s not how it works in college. You could try to look for a college that has a large population of students with disabilities and try to get accommodations there. However, it will still be much more different than the special education in system high school.

Unlike high school, everyone in college gets to pick their own major(s). Each major has a specific list of coursework that is required to graduate with a degree in that major. For instance, if you wanted to major in chemistry, you would have to take classes like Chemistry 1, Chemistry 2, Bio-Chemistry, etc. Some coursework required in certain majors may be too difficult for people with autism. In my case, several subjects were difficult for me in high school, and when I tried to take those subjects in college, I continued to struggle with them. Even the computer courses, which were part of my original major, proved to be too difficult, leading me to change my major to Office Management Technology so I could complete these courses with more ease.

Another thing I struggled with in college was making friends and joining activities. The lack of dorms made it extremely tough to find fellow classmates outside of classes. I was always shy and didn’t know how I should go about making friends – I’ve actually struggled with this in high school as well. As a result, I didn’t know who to talk to in classes. The only person I would consider a friend in college was my college girlfriend. In addition, I was so focused on my job and attending classes that I didn’t join any clubs. Luckily, I made some close friends before college, so they supported me throughout this experience.

Studying can be difficult for some individuals with autism in college. For myself, focusing on work for hours at a time was a major struggle. I’d recommend trying a few different study strategies before picking one that works for you. I read textbook chapters several times, and highlighted important parts of it, to fully understand the material. Another helpful tip is to join a study group, or have a classmate quiz you. You can also record lectures (with the professor’s permission) so you can remember every second of the lecture.

The good thing about college is that you are in total control of your schedule: you can take courses based on your work and personal schedule. For instance, I’m not a morning person, so I chose to sign up for courses that offered classes in the afternoon or at night. One tip for creating your college schedule: most night classes only meet once a week, because they last for a longer period of time, so make sure to take that into consideration. 

Also, another thing that was hard for me in college was time management. In addition to school, I did have to work. I had a hard time picking nights to study, picking times to be social, and picking times to work at my job. I decided to go to school during the week and worked on the weekends. Balancing school, work, and social life is hard for anyone to manage, especially me! Coursework difficulty, studying, and time management really put a lot of pressure on me. I found myself stressed as a result of all of those pressures. I often adjusted my medicine throughout these four years to keep me happy and healthy. Despite these medications, I kept feeling that I was going to drop out. My parents immensely supported me – they always encouraged me to complete my degree and always thought I was too hard on myself.

If I had the change to go to college again, I would try to make more friends and try more activities. I wouldn’t fear rejection just because I have autism. In college, I tried a couple of activities but always ended up quitting them; if I had the change to go to college again, I would push myself to do more activities, until I would be 100% sure that I didn’t like the activity. I do this currently as an adult, so I know that this is a feasible thing to do in college.

Life is full of sacrifices, and even though I did sacrifice a bit, I know that if I sacrificed more I could have gotten better grades. However, I’m proud and happy of my 3.6 GPA, my Associate’s Degree, and graduating cum laude! My hard work put me at the top of my major – I received an award for one of the best students in my major of Office Management Technology. Even though attending college is especially difficult for students with autism, if you are interested in going to college, it’s totally worth it! College helped me get to where I am today and I loved all of the experiences I was fortunate enough to have.


About the Author

26731609_10215006363580607_8024745951885965610_nLouis Scarantino is a young man on the autism spectrum. Growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Louis admits that he had a tough time in high school. However, once he attended Luzerne County Community College, his life changed for the better. Louis graduated in 2013 cum laude and received an award in his major for the Most Outstanding Student in Office Information Technology. After meeting Shania Twain, his favorite singer, at a concert in Las Vegas and actually going on stage with her, he decided that he wanted to become a writer and motivational speaker. Louis follows this dream with his blog posts, and by posting on sites like The Mighty. Check out his website for more great posts! Louis will be expanding on this topic of dating with his new book, entitled “Love is too Hard: The Dating (Mis)Adventures of a Man with Autism.”


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