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Office of Disability Services

About Autism Spectrum Disorders



What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or Pervasive Development Disorders (PDD) include a range of disorders with the following commonalities:

  • impairment in social interaction
  • impairment in communication
  • restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior

Other terms that might be used for disorders on the spectrum and similar disorders are autism, Asperger's Syndrome (AS), High Functioning Autism (HFA), Specific Learning Disability, or Auditory Processing Disorder.  


Students with ASD often display behavior that is uncharacteristic among their peers.  They may be loners by choice.  By the time they have reached college, most of them have learned coping skills and should have had some training to help them navigate socially.  Some students still come to college undiagnosed, and may need assistance in understanding classroom protocol.


Many students with ASD are not able to pick up on social cues that we all use to regulate our own behavior and that of others. If a nonverbal impairment is evident, they may interpret communication literally, even when it is not intended to be.  Students with ASD may miss verbal instructions.  Their communication with you may lack details necessary to comprehend the question or situation.


Many students with ASD display an extreme focus on a particular area of interest. This can cause time management issues for the student.  You may notice that the student has a rigidity to routine and rituals.  The transient nature of college academics disrupts the routine, and the student may struggle with anxiety brought about by changes. Motor mannerisms such as arm flapping may also be present.

Instructor Tips

  • Written communication will help the student who struggles with following communication that is presented orally only.
  • Note that the use of sarcasm may be missed on the student who does not pick up non-verbal cues.
  • If a student continually acts inappropriately in class, it might be helpful to have a private meeting where parameters for communication in class can be set, i.e., the student may share up to three times per class session, etc.
  • Change is difficult for a student with an ASD.  Assistance with transitions might be helpful.
  • Group work may be a struggle for the student with ASD, but it is a skill that will be important for them to develop.

Student Tips

  • Structure is key. The more structure you can build into your life, the easier it will be for you.  Keep a binder or notebook to help you navigate where to go when dealing with an issue.  If you are unsure, contact the Office of Disability Services.
  • Coaching may help you work through organizational difficulties and social interactions.
  • Counselors in the Engle Center can help you deal with anxiety-related issues.

Any further assistance or accommodations needed should be discussed with the Director of Disability Services.