Autism and Higher Education

So many supports are available for children on the spectrum, but once they reach college age, they mostly seem to disappear. The rate of success in higher education (and in real-world jobs) is shockingly low despite these supports, so what can parents do now to help?

RDI® Support for Life

RDI® is a support for life. This means that autistic people can benefit from RDI® at any age because it is designed to promote growth, learning, development, and the ability to have relationships and perform necessary life skills, and eventually, success in higher education, real-world jobs, and achieve independence in adulthood.

Dynamic Intelligence

Dynamic intelligence is central to independence and quality of life, and RDI® builds on this perspective. The world is complex – there is much to cope with! Challenges and change are constants in life, especially when teens and young adults enter college and seek meaningful employment. Our focus at RDI® is not on therapy that supports these challenges, but on the development of Dynamic Intelligence that gives individuals the ability to think flexibly and to understand different perspectives throughout life.

College Success Advice from Adult Autistics

How can RDI® provide real-world support for your child, teen, or young adult to prepare them for higher education, or a real-world job? In Dr. Steven Gutstein’s words, “Dynamic Intelligence is the mental ability that enables humans to successfully navigate the world and our relationships….and we have developed many resources to meet the mental challenges encountered in dynamic environments.”

How do RDI® and Dynamic Intelligence work in practical terms in the realm of higher education for autistics? We’ll unpack that for you as we share college success tips authored by several autistic adults.

Support, But Do Not Pressure

“Support, but don’t pressure” when preparing your autistic child for college, advises Katelyn Decker, autistic adult and writer for The Mighty. Katelyn advises to give your son or daughter space or to not check up on them so often.

She says:

“Nagging at them to talk to you can take their focus off college (i.e., any big goal in life) and make them feel overwhelmed more than they should, which doesn’t help either of you.”

When we believe in our children, when we presume competence, we give them a chance to develop and gain confidence. We give them the green light to move towards independence.

Make a Schedule and Reminders

Help your child put together a schedule and reminders, which will provide support for them when life gets chaotic. As your child advances to high school, community college, or higher education, this will help them with developing organizational skills. Inevitably, this will also grow Foresight and Hindsight (one of the six areas of Dynamic Intelligence), which is the ability to reflect on past experiences and anticipate potential future scenarios in a productive manner.

“I feel confused by this massive change of classes and schedules in college, but I/we can make a schedule similar to the one I had in high school. The reminders that I/we created really did work!” Katelyn explains that this helps autistics know what is to come and will help them have a more comfortable adjustment.

Read more tips by Katelyn Decker: 10 Ways to Prepare Your Autistic Child for College

Find a Mentor

Ron Sandison, autistic author, writer, and speaker encourages young people to find a mentor.

A mentor can be a professor at college, a teacher, a friend, or a fellow student. Ron does not believe that a mentor must be present in person. They can be someone that inspires an individual from afar, like a famous author or person. Reading books on autism, especially those written by authors who are on the spectrum, and those who have become an expert themselves is a great learning resource for people with autism.

Having mentors and relationships helps to support two areas of dynamic intelligence:

Emotional Referencing – the ability to use an emotional feedback system to learn from the subjective experiences of others.

Social Coordination – the ability to observe and continually regulate one’s behavior in order to participate in spontaneous relationships involving collaboration and the exchange of emotions.

Start at a Local College

Money can be saved by starting general classes at a community college, but it can also help autistic students prepare for college life. It can also stave off some of the overwhelm that new students can experience.

Starting at a local college can bolster two areas of Dynamic Intelligence:

Flexible Thinking – The ability to rapidly adapt, change strategies, and alter plans based upon changing circumstances.

Relationship Information Processing – The ability to obtain meaning based upon the larger context. Solving problems that have no “right and wrong’ solutions.

“I’ll earn some of my credits at the local community college first. I love these baby steps. I adjusted to high school, and now I am getting my higher education feet wet. I will be better prepared for the BIG school change that is coming up!” Check with your local community college(s) for early or pre-college attendance. Your autistic teen may be eligible to take a class or two while they are still in high school. This can help your child gain confidence, learn organization skills, and prepare for college life and independence.

Read more tips by Ron Sandison: 8 Tips for College Success for Those on The Autism Spectrum

Talk to the Staff (Do Your Research)

Chris Bonnello, autistic advocate, author, and former teacher, stresses several strategies that can help autistic individuals succeed in higher education. Research can be done by studying the college from afar, but it can also be done in person. Research can result in more staff support, such as having extra time granted for completing exams. It can help your child find employment designed for individuals that are autistic while attending college. Talking to staff can tamper down a young person’s anxiety about college and it can also get their needs brought to the forefront.

For example, when Chris faced exams and didn’t understand some of the materials, he gained the confidence to knock on the lecturer’s office doors and ask questions. This helped the lecturers to understand the importance that Chris felt in preparing (in his way) for the exams.

Chris states:

“If you feel an explanation of your anxiety would help them to understand you, there are certainly opportunities to do that too.”

Talking to staff and doing your research supports an area of Dynamic Intelligence:

Declarative Language – Using language and non-verbal communication to express curiosity, invite others to interact, share perceptions and feelings and coordinate your actions with others.

Read more tips by Chris Bonnello: Five Tips for Autistic Students Starting College or University

Supports for Autistic College Students

Beyond RDI®, you might also consider training, programs, individual, and group college programs for students on the spectrum (and their parents).

College Autism Spectrum offers a listing of support programs in the United States

College Autism Network offers membership for family members with listings of Autism Support Programs and training around the United States

TCC Top College Consultants offers listings for “Neurodiversity in College,” services, and resources for some areas of Canada and across the United States

Are you seeking resources for transitioning to adulthood (employment, housing, mental health counseling, friendship, and support groups)? Learn more at Adulthood Transitions, Housing, and Long-Term Care Support

Join Our Community

You do not have to seek wide and far to find support, education, and resources for parents, professionals, and adult autistics. We have a community of people who get it!

We hope you join our Online Community today.


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