Academically gifted students with autism can also enjoy greater success in college based on the right high school experience. This is the result of research conducted by the UConn team at the Neag School of Education and published in a recent issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
“High school shouldn’t just be about disability reduction, but it should be about talent development,” says Sally Reese, Letitia Neag Morgan Chair in Educational Psychology. “We would like to see more teachers and parents use the interests and strengths of these students so that they can address their shortcomings. You can do this in a remedial classroom, but it is not entirely appropriate for this group. What we want people to do is find something that these children like. do, based on their interests.”
The study used the largest sample of academically advanced students, who also had autism, of any research study ever conducted. The authors were interested in looking for a group in which the focus is usually on disability, rather than talent and ability.
“We wanted to do a study that, in a sense, used reverse engineering,” says Reese. “A lot of smart autistic students don’t make it through college.”
As a result, the team narrowed the sample to students who had already completed a few years at different highly competitive universities and some who had recently graduated.
“One of the problems these students have is that their autism may mask their talents, or their talents may mask their autism,” says Joseph Maddus, director of the Collaborative in Post-Secondary Education and Disability and Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology. . Another challenge is that because of their high school performance, they may not receive some of the special education services they may need.
“We want to challenge these students and put them in the most rigorous academic curriculum for them in high school, not only to tap into their strengths and passions, but also to prepare them for higher education.”
Extracurricular activities in high school also play an important role in the academic success at the next level for these students.
“When they participate in work that they care about and are excited about, these students put themselves in situations where they can develop better social skills and strategies,” says Nicholas Gelbar, associate research professor at the University of California. “Many of the students who were in our sample also participated in these types of activities in college that connected them better with the campus community, so they were able to do better academically. These feelings could help offset some of the challenges they would face socially in both college and work environment.”
The researchers hope their work will serve as a positive beacon to parents and students.
“Many of these students feel lonely and have social challenges,” says Reese. “Purposeful work can provide an outlet and we have to think about the amount of wasted talent that occurs when these young people go to college and drop out due to lonely events.”
Reis offers specific advice to parents of gifted students with autism during their high school years to help them prepare for college.
“They need to make sure that their students are in at least one or two classes that are very challenging in their area of interest and achievement,” says Reis. Next, try to find an extracurricular activity that relates to their interests and gives them a chance to make friends and stand out in something outside of academia. It could be something related to their school or something they do on the weekend, like a class at a science center, for example.
“We also learned that many of these young people are successful in college because their parents were able to send them to a summer residence program for a week or two. This overnight experience really helps them when they go to college. We understand that it takes money and not everyone can do it, but there are scholarships Scholarships are available and lots of organizations that support young people with autism.”
It’s also important for these students to have some adults in their high school who can serve as a support system and understand them, Reese said.
“Many of these young people have limited social battery and just need time to be able to recharge,” says Reese. “So, every one of our students who succeeded in college had a guidance counselor, teacher, or someone from whom they received help and support.”