“I have had nothing but a negative experiences when it comes to school. I went to a university, flunked out because I was struggling with depression. I didn't eat, sleep, shower, etc. So I went back to community college and failed the next semester. Went to another university, where I am at currently and I see the same pattern of me failing to attend class. I go at first, then I'll miss once, and then I'm too ashamed to go back."
Does this story sound familiar?
Failing in college as a teen or young adult with learning differences is a stressful time for the entire family. Parents have already invested countless hours obtaining a diagnose and related services, attending and advocating at IEP meetings, securing accommodations, creating transition plans, planning social time, dealing with legal matters, and much more.
The student may experience failure internally and become depressed or anxious about their future, making it more difficult to motivate them to pursue a productive path forward.
When things don't go as planned at the college level, it's a good time to...
Because of the developmental delay that often coexists with a learning disability or autism spectrum diagnosis, many young people with special needs are simply not prepared to manage the transition to college, even after making great strides during high school or while living at home. To quantify this further, about 40% of students who enroll in CIP’s transition programs have come after having a failed college experience.
When young people with autism and/or learning differences experience this type of failure, it’s important to pick up the pieces as soon as possible and not allow the situation to define the individuals self-worth or long term outlook.
At CIP we continually reinforce that autistic people and those with learning differences are made for good purpose and inherently valuable - meaning that they have strengths and challenges just like everyone else and deserve opportunities to define their own lives in the way that works best for them.
The most common scenarios that cause an unsuccessful college experience for young adults with autism and related differences are:
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
Often all these factors can occur in the first couple of months in college, and parents are surprised to find out that their academically bright student was not prepared for reality of what is required to self-manage in a new setting with completely new expectations.
The classic college experience is not for everyone. Many people with learning differences such as autism and ADHD develop special interests and/or specialized skills and talents that can serve as productive pathways to a more independent and financially sustainable lifestyle (albeit sometimes these can serve as escape routes too). Tapping into these areas of interest often generates motivation, drive, and progress.
Individuals with neurodiverse learning issues can experience great success, but this often takes trial and error, and unfortunately much of the research shows that generally lifespan outcomes for autistic people and those with learning differences are poor. Therefore, a holistic support system that works to meet the individual at their present level, understands their underlying needs, focuses on self-determination as the end goal, and provides an abundance of opportunities to facilitate mentors and friends is considered "best-practice" by many in the field of transition services.
The primary features of a productive educational program or support system often includes:
There are numerous examples of highly successful people with learning differences. (Check out this slideshow of famous people with learning differences created awhile back with the help of Judy Bass, founder of Bass Educational Services).
Researching and planning for your young adult's next moves can be difficult as access to information is not generally available. Many families turn to their trusted friends and advisors or utilize the services of an educational consultant to help determine good fitting alternatives.
Many families begin to ask questions such as: Is college really the best pathway? Would vocational training be a better option? What strengths and challenges are unique to my young adult and how will they be addressed in an educational setting? Will my student be happy?
In a recent study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 24 panelists, including adults with ASD, service providers, researchers, and parents of youth with ASD, identified 14 Key Services Needed to Support Transitioning Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder. These areas should be reviewed when considering your own families needs.
Once you’ve identified and priority areas that are important to your family, it’s time to start to look at your options. But before you jump in, first take a look at the variety of alternatives that exist:
From support programs developed at colleges to residential or gap year programs, there exist many solutions depending on who you talk to. However, the most important piece of making a well-planned transition back into college, employment, and life are to base realistic goals on an individual's dreams and aspirations.
Many families head to the internet, ask friends and family members, or get advice from their student's therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor. There are a few things to consider when conducting your search:
As President of the College Internship Program (CIP), Dan strives to achieve long-term vision and alignment with CIP’s core values and founding principles by ensuring operations, marketing, strategy, and programming are effectively implemented across the organization.