From High School to College to Job: Getting though college isn’t easy for any kid; it’s even harder with autism.

From the newsletter:

If there’s a good kind of autism to have, Ian has it. His IQ for nonverbal tasks, like pattern recognition and visual spacial reasons, is off the charts. He taught himself to read at age three, looked at the multiplication tables once and just knew them, and is an excellent computer programmer. The good news is that jobs in technology fields are plentiful and well compensated. In addition, as 60 Minutes reported last year, more and more large companies recognize the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce and have created modified workplaces, which include new interview techniques and sensory-safe offices. 

Ian can absolutely do one of those jobs in the future. That’s the goal. But how we do we get him there? I can’t just plop in a regular college like his older brother. He couldn’t manage the social expectations of a dorm or a traditional classroom. Most college professors do not appreciate being interrupted by a student who corrects their usage of apostrophes. Without basic independent living skills – like crossing a busy city street – Ian could not live without assistance in a college dorm. 

So, how do I get Ian from Point A to Point Z, from now to job? There are multiple things that I’m working on simultaneously. He is attending a town 18-21 program, where he is learning social rules like: “no one appreciates having their grammar corrected.” A private therapist is working with Ian to lessen some of his OCD tics. Because he needs some formal training in computer programming — a piece of paper to take to future employers to certify his skills — I’m slowly acclimating him to college life. 

Between my professor jobs, my undergrad, and grad schools, I have direct experience with about a dozen colleges. My husband and my father are PhDs. My dad used to take me to his college, back when I was in elementary school. My brother and sister both have BAs and MAs. As part of my job as an education writer, I have talked with hundreds of college professionals over the years. I know how colleges work. 

However, prior to this spring, when I started the community college admissions process for Ian, I had limited experience with community colleges. I wrote a couple of articles that touched on those 2-year schools, but I never worked on those campuses and got the full experience. So, this spring was a crash course. 

Poorly trained administration, compounded by limited work hours due to COVID, meant that it took me months and months just to sign up Ian for one non-matriculated class at the college. It was impossible to get this done on their website or on the phone, so I had to go down to the school, walk into the correct offices, and demand to talk with someone with a lofty “I’m a former college professor” entitlement voice. I was shocked by the inefficiencies and unprofessionalism of the school administration.

Getting Ian registered with the Office of Disabilities was another bureaucratic challenge. They simply didn’t answer their emails. I had to again walk into the office and demand help. 

There is no way that Ian could have busted through that bureaucracy on his own. I’m sure that many, many typical students with complicated lives were unable to get through the application process this year. Perhaps that’s why community colleges continue to struggle with enrollment. 

And in the end, the Office of Disability did not offer any real help for Ian. They are set up to help students who are deaf, blind, or have dyslexia. They offer extended time on tests, access to braille learning devices, or opportunities for free tutoring. They offer a small separate program for kids with intellectual deficits (IQ under 90), where they let the students help out in the library and book store. But Ian doesn’t need those things. He needs an aide to jump in to answer Ian’s random questions and decipher college lingo. 

Basic modifications and supports that Ian received with an IEP in public schools, do not exist in higher education. Students with disabilities have the guaranteed right to a high school education, but they do not have those same rights in college. I couldn’t even hire someone privately to help out Ian in his college classrooms, because extra people are not allowed in the classroom. 

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