When people talk of students with an Autisim Spectrum Disorder, they more often than not picture people who have developmental delays or language impediments. Although this depiction is valid, there is another side of the Spectrum that is sometimes ignored. Many students with Autism are high-functioning, extraordinarily bright individuals; their disability is often referred to as Aspergers Disorder.
According to apergers.com, "Aspergers Disorder is a milder variant of Autistic Disorder... In Asperger's Disorder, affected individuals are characterized by social isolation and eccentric behavior in childhood. There are impairments in two-sided social interaction and non-verbal communication."
Although students with Aspergers may have difficulty navigating social situations throughout their childhood, many leave high school en route to a prestigious university. In Abigail Sullivan Moore's New York Times article, she tells the story of Valerie Kaplan, a Carnegie-Mellon University graduate with Aspergers. Although small social queues elude her, Valerie has no problem keeping up in advanced college-level courses, even though she may be simultaneously "circle[ing] the freckles on her arm with a marker" instead of socializing with her classmates.
Through her years of higher education, Valerie learned how to work with other students, instead of watching them work around her. With the help of her professors, she started using direct language, asking what needed to be done instead of trying to infer it. Once she understood her task, she could interact with her classmates and use her knowledge to problem solve in groups.
Valerie's situation is not unique to her university. From community college to Ivy League institutions, students with Aspergers, once held back by their differences, are now seeking out higher education. Colleges all over the nation are creating programs to support students like Valerie. For example, Brandeis University reports that approximately 10% of their students have disclosed a documented disability, a similar ratio as most other US colleges. At Brandeis, "the community includes students with mobility, visual, hearing, medical, psychological and learning disabilities. We appreciate that all people have strengths and vulnerabilities — and we want to support our students' achievement and growth."
The services at Brandeis include extended test time, peer notetakers, books on CD, adaptive technology, allergy-free housing, and cross-campus transportation. The Academic Support Staff work with the students to make them comfortable in class and on campus, and to ensure they have a "fulfilling college experience, from their first registration for classes through graduation."
Other universities structure their academic services similarly; some even create clubs and classes to help students with Aspergers feel comfortable and integrated into their environment. Colleges have stopped panicking about how to help students with disabilities and have began listening to them. After taking account of individual needs, each student is able to bring their own talents to the classroom, making higher education truly accessible.