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Expanding the paradigm: postsecondary education options for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disabilities

by Hart.,D., Grigal, M. & Weir, C.

Hart, D. & Grigal, M. (2010). Expanding the paradigm: postsecondary education options for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disabilities. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disorders, 25(3), 134-150.

Objective: The article provides an extensive overview of postsecondary education (PSE) options for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other Intellectual Disabilities (ID).  Historical and philosophical perspectives about the benefits of PSE with these populations are provided.   Descriptions of current PSE programs and models of implementation are explored. 

Method: The authors provide rich clinical definitions of both ASD and ID, utilizing the criteria prescribed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and Higher Education Opportunity Act.  The need for PSE options amongst students with ASD are delineated to include increasing numbers of students with ASD, lack of research on transition aged youth with ASD, and more specifically, the absence of research examining PSE evidence-based practice.   Initial research shows students with ID benefit from PSE, however more research needs to look at successful implementation practices.   Many “arguments” were presented on why PSE for students with ASD and ID should be studied and evidence-based practice established (i.e. normalization, inclusion, universal benefits of education towards employment outcomes, quality of life, etc). 

The article also examines the issues of academic rigor and accommodations.  Contrary to some beliefs, the level of academic instruction should not be diminished for these students, but instead modifications can be provided.  Utilizing the disabilities services office at various higher education institutions is recommended for services and supports with accommodations.  Several current PSE options were highlighted including; dual or concurrent enrollment option, individual or family-initiated supports, as well as promising practices of supports (i.e., person centered practices, development of a work based learning plan, identification of steps to reach career goal, mentoring, universal design,  social pragmatics and communication skills, etc ).

Implications for systems were discussed. For example:  local education agencies, institutes for higher education, and state and local disability and community rehabilitation service agencies.

Results: Given careful review of the entirety of higher education concerns for students with ASD and ID, the authors compiled a list of recommendations regarding policy change, research needed, establishment of evidence-based practice, and training and technical assistance.

Conclusion: The Summary reiterates the needs for pursuing PSE options for students with ASD and ID as a means to “maximize personal growth and life enhancement”.  The known best practices in PSE: “real choice, true inclusion and high expectations” are emphasized as the foundation of this area of exploration.  Finally, the article provides descriptions of four real life higher education examples.