Sunday, March 8, 2015

3- Transition to College for Students on the Autism Spectrum: Don't Skip Class

A parent told me, “My child with Asperger’s has tunnel vision.  He can only see what’s of interest to him at the moment.  The rest of the world doesn’t exist.”  Indeed, the term tunnel vision has been applied to people on the Autism spectrum since Lovaas first used it in 1971.

Keeping in mind the caveat that My Young Traveler who has ASD taught me, “When you know one person with autism, you know ONE PERSON with autism,” I offer what seems like an obvious piece of critical advice to students with ASD who are preparing for post-secondary education.

Never skip a college class.  Not a lecture.  Not a lab. Not a field experience.  JUST. GO. TO. CLASS.

This advice sounds so obvious as to be ridiculous.  But it needs to be said because when our students with ASDs failed their college courses, lack of ability was seldom the reason.  Skipping class often was. 

We never expected that. 

Sometimes one of our students didn’t arrive at campus until after the first day of class and thereby started off in the academic hole, missing the course overview, the professor’s syllabus review, the reading assignment due for the next class day, and a shot at choosing a good seat to reduce potential student-specific distractions (air vent noise, window glare, open door distractions). 

Some students started skipping class the very first week.  Maybe the freedom of sleeping in with no parent to enforce getting to class was irresistible.  Maybe the anxiety of going to a first class where one didn’t know what to expect was the reason.  Or maybe the anxiety of failing to read the assignment given on Monday for Wednesday’s class caused the absence.

Sometimes students skipped class because they were upset about a personal problem.  Sometimes they skipped one class to finish the homework for another class.  Sometimes they hadn’t awakened early enough to have breakfast, so they opted to go eat instead of go to class.  Sometimes they were having such fun with their new friends that they didn’t want to leave the camaraderie.  None of these choices had a good outcome. 

Missing a class the first time seemed to be a watershed moment.  We found that once a student missed her first class, her attendance often cascaded downhill.  Skipping the next class was easier; attending, harder.  A professor told us, “Your freshman is a genius.  Her comments are like those of a graduate student.  But she’s already missed half the classes during the first three weeks, and I can’t allow her to continue.”

So I offer some advice.

1)    Don’t schedule classes before noon.

2)    Try an online class, but don’t fall behind. 

3)    Live at home so your parents can help you stay accountable for attending class.

4)    Go to class even if you haven’t completed the homework.

5)    Go to class even if you don’t feel like it.

6)    Go to class even if you don’t like the instructor.


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