Understanding the Experiences of College Students Who Have Autism

Principal Investigator(s):
Monique N. Colclough
Grant Type:
Graduate Research
Old Dominion University
Norfolk, Virginia
Year Awarded:
Year Completed:
Employment, Transition, and Adults


Although the performance and experiences of college students with disabilities, particularly learning disabilities (e.g., Hughes & Smith, 1990; Henderson, 2001), is thoroughly documented, there is a gap in the literature regarding the academic and social experiences of college students who have Autism. Understanding these experiences could highlight transition planning and retention outcomes, providing strategies for higher education’s response to the emerging body of college students who have Autism.

The purpose of this phenomenological study is to explore the efficacy of navigating the informal social structures of college for students who have Autism. Using a social constructivist lens, the following research questions will guide this study: what are the experiences of college students who have Autism; what accommodations/supports do college students who have Autism perceive they need? Actionable information for supporting college students who have Autism is missing from post-secondary education literature. As scholars we know that this gap in literature includes how college students who have Autism navigate the social idiosyncrasies of college life, the retention of college students with Autism, and their readiness for career and workforce opportunities, which influences reduced earning power and increased reliance on state or federal support (Promoting College Access and Success for Students with Disabilities, 2014).

Qualitative design allows the researcher to account for participants’ experiences related to diversity in self-determination, college readiness, disability accommodations, and definitions of success (Prince-Hughes, 2002). Chiang, Cheung, Hickson, Xiang, and Tsai’s 2012 qualitative study laid the groundwork for identifying predictors for academic performance and post-secondary persistence. The proposed study will recruit approximately 10 undergraduate and graduate participants who have Autism from an urban research intensive doctoral granting institution, using a homogenous convenience sampling.

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