Self Advocacy and College Students with ASD

by Diandre Glover Thomas


Student smiling with book

Students with disabilities are expected to advocate for themselves in college

Students with autism have parents, teachers, counselors and other administrators who advocate for them during the high school years. However, when these students graduate from high school and attend college they are expected to advocate for themselves. Because of this shift in the expectation of a student with autism to become a self-advocate, it is essential for them to learn about their disability and most importantly be capable of communicating their needs to college disability resource centers when planning accommodations.

After a student with a disability enrolls in college it is the student’s responsibility to self identify as having a disability. The first step in this process is to contact the college's disability resource center.  Every college has their own application process; however, in general the student is asked to submit written documentation of their disability and meet with the disability service coordinator to assess the student's individual needs and arrange accommodations. Accommodations help college students with autism overcome obstacles that may create barriers that could prevent them from accessing the same educational opportunities as their peers. The prospective college student with autism needs to learn how to explain the need for accommodations to prevent specific barriers. For example, if a student needs extended time to take tests or a distraction free environment they need to be able to explain why they need those accommodations.

Although, the high school Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P.) cannot be used to document a disability in college. It can be helpful for a student to become familiar with interventions that were used in high school to be able to explain the need for similar accommodations in college. High school students can learn about their disability from dialogue with teachers and parents. In addition, students can learn self advocacy skills through participating in IEP team meetings to discuss the student’s post-secondary goals. Learning to become a self advocate is an important skill for all students transitioning into adulthood; however, it is an essential skill needed to contribute to the overall success of college students with autism.


Written by: Diandre Glover Thomas the Program Coordinator Senior for the KY Autism Training Center (2006-2015).