Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorders are a group of disorders that share a range of difficulties in three core domains: social, behavioral, and cognitive.  Individuals with this condition are often highly intelligent and academically gifted.  Young children with ASD are often called “little professors” based on their vast, sometimes arcane, knowledge base and their penchant for displaying this knowledge.  Young adults with ASD are often uniquely qualified to succeed in the intellectual atmosphere of higher education.  

Despite high intelligence, the cognitive style of ASD tends to be overly literal.  Some students may “miss the forest for the trees” as they focus on details and struggle with integration across multiple domains.  When faced with ambiguity, some may become rigid and perfectionistic.  This has implications for understanding the intent of assignments and readings in some courses.

People with ASD usually struggle interpersonally.  Although linguistically and verbally advanced, many find social communication and the give-and-take conversation challenging.  Moreover, many find it difficult to appreciate the perspective of others in conversations.  Students with ASD will likely benefit from clear and regular feedback regarding the interpretation of classroom assignments.  Providing the opportunity to clarify assignments ahead of time and, if the course requires writing papers, allowing the student to hand in outlines or more frequent drafts may be feasible and helpful.  If the writing is an in-class quiz or exam, a brief meeting to clarify the questions would be useful.  Simply understanding that students with ASD approach assignments from a somewhat different perspective than most other students in class may also help in comprehending his or her efforts. 

It is also important to note that every student with ASD is different.  Meeting with the student at the beginning of the semester provides an opportunity for introductions, learning about each other and setting parameters for the course. 

Nick Brincat, a Miami student from Northern Chicago, has written, directed and produced an excellent video on Asperger's Syndrome (AS).  Nick's video gives great information and is helpful in understanding the dynamics of AS:

Link to Nick Brincat's video on Asperger's Syndrome