This is the second article in a series aimed to empower neurodivergent and differently-abled students to prepare for academic success in college. We're aiming to de-stigmatize mental and medical health differences, and to champion advocacy by highlighting resources. There are resources available to you to mitigate obstacles, and you deserve to thrive.
Everyone’s recommended accommodations look different depending on specific needs. If you need academic accommodations from your college in order to perform in class, on exams, or to access student housing, show up for yourself as advocate of the year. Seek out your accessibility resource center on campus: the Robin to your Batman.
There, they'll evaluate your needs, ask for supporting medical documentation, and then issue you an accommodation letter to be given to your professors or relevant parties. Supporting documents are kept confidential by the accessibility office. The letter omits details to protect your privacy, only outlining the accommodations recommended for professors to extend to you.
Professors then must follow the recommendations as outlined in the letter. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the ADA Amendments Act protect students with disabilities. These laws require that qualified students, including those with learning differences, must have equal access to an education. Applied Accommodation includes:
- Assistive technology
- Sign language interpreters
- Instructional strategies
- Extended time to complete degree, assignments, exams, etc.
Why do resources like the Office of Accessible Education exist?
Students who are differently abled deserve to thrive and have the legal right to thrive academically just as much as any of their peers. A university is obligated to protect student rights by providing reasonable accommodations to make access to education and services on campus equitable. Students are held to the same academic standards but environmental conditions can be altered. For more about how these offices operate and interact with students and faculty, see companion blog post Seeking Accessible Education at Stanford.
Colleges Offering Top-Notch Accessibility
While most colleges do have support for autistic students, there are a number of colleges out there that go above and beyond in support for autistic students. Empowerly’s research team has compiled a list of US colleges that have well-known and great quality autistic student and neurodivergent support programs.
Whittier is highly regarded. The Office of Student Disability Services offers a number of services including assisting graduating students’ transition out of Whittier College, a service not offered in many other colleges.
University of Redlands
The college is very thorough in identifying and categorizing exceptionalities. The University of Redlands will provide reasonable accommodations to students with documented disabilities which substantially limit a major life activity. These accommodations may include, but are not limited to, exam accommodations like a quiet place, or additional time, books on tape, and notetakers.
The entire college is focused on students with learning exceptionalities. This school is devoted to students on the spectrum; however, they do not offer a math degree, only computer science.
One of our Empowerly team members is a professional on the spectrum, and gives Landmark a glowing review. She says colleges like Landmark were not available when she was a student and she remembers having to muddle through. She has spoken to the Director of Admissions at Landmark a few times and believes the staff is very knowledgeable with specific and personalized resources.
The Landmark College Institute for Research and Training conducts groundbreaking research on learning disabilities (LD), ADHD, and ASD, and shares that knowledge with educators around the world through webinars, workshops, professional training, and online courses.
Landmark College sees neurodiversity as a strength, demonstrated by their Center for Neurodiversity. They focus on scholarly perspectives that further the appreciation for variation and neurodivergence in society. They uphold the saying "nothing about us without us," to guide disability advocacy with a community of both neurodivergent and neurotypical people working together.
Drexels is one of colleges well known for its programs offered to students on the spectrum.
The A.J. Drexel Autism Institute is the first research organization built around a public health science approach to understanding and addressing the challenges of autism spectrum disorders. The Autism Institute's mission is to discover, develop, promote and disseminate population-level and community-based approaches that will prevent autism-associated morbidity and disability, improving the quality of life for individuals with autism of all ages.
The Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) was established to support the vast influx of students on the autism spectrum that are applying to Mercyhurst and other universities worldwide in record numbers. It facilitates and supports the successful adjustment and progression of college students on the autism spectrum in all domains of college life, thereby broadening their vocational opportunities, and enhancing social and community engagement.
The College Autism Transition Support (CATS) program offers life skills coaching and other transition support to matriculated students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
They focus on 7 core elements – Critical Thinking and Creative Problem Solving, Information Literacy, Communication Skills, Affective Awareness, Moral and Ethical Discernment, Contextual Integration, and Civic Responsibility.
Hofstra’s program for special needs students is called PALS, or Program for Academic Learning Skills. It helps students with learning disabilities or attention deficits by pairing them up with a learning specialist, who will aid them throughout their college career. Individual plans are created for each participant, molded to his or her unique needs, and they work with their specialist for 90 minutes each week. In addition, the school offers study skills workshops and online programs to help students develop skills that will serve them better.
One of the best resources for special needs students at Misericordia is the Alternative Learners Project (ALP). It aims to provide comprehensive on-campus support to students with learning disabilities, serving more than 60 each year. In their first year, LD pupils will take part in the BRIDGE Program to better adapt to campus life. After that, they will get help with a variety of learning strategies and work with a professional to develop an individual accommodation program. The program offers many other forms of support, and while it does come with a fee, it may be more than worth it for many students.
The Learning Services Program is a year-long program for freshman that helps ASD students and others with learning disabilities to acclimate to college life. LSP includes meetings with a program coordinator to develop an appropriate course load, a one-semester writing course and weekly meetings with a writing tutor, and an assigned upperclassman peer mentor.
American University offers a weekly program for students with ASD.
For further information, email Erin Tokajer at email@example.com
University of Connecticut
Beyond Access (BA) provides an opportunity for students to work smarter, not harder, in a competitive academic environment while also preparing for life beyond college. Students enrolled in BA work closely with a trained Strategy Instructor (SI) to design and customize their program based on their individual goals and learning profile.
New York University
The NYU Connections ASD program is an optional yearlong program through the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities offering one-on-one and group support for NYU students on the autism spectrum. NYU Connections intends to build on the inherent strengths of its students, while also looking at creative solutions to navigate the roadblocks that can hinder college success. The program aims to assist with the transition to college and beyond, with a specific eye towards independence. This is currently a pilot program.
University of Tennessee
UTC’s Disability Resource Center has developed a multifaceted and exhaustive program that serves the holistic needs of students with ASD. It’s called Mosaic. Considered one of the most comprehensive programs in the nation, Mosaic is steeped in ASD research, best practice analysis, and student collaboration. Unique to Mosaic is its model, organized into four primary components split into an academic year.