What is Autism?

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication.
  • Many individuals with Autism demonstrate Executive Functioning (EF) deficits, which impact organization, time management, task initiation, inhibition, and emotional regulation.
  • Not all students with Autism are the same. They all present with unique strengths and challenges.


  • Approximately 2% of college students in the United States report as having Autism.
  • During the 2016-17 academic year, 69 students at Purchase College selfidentified to the Office of Disability
    Resources as a student with ASD.
  • Statistics suggest that these rates will continue to rise, which is why it is critical to know how to most effectively work with this population.

Some Things You May Notice…

  • May exhibit awkward eye contact, posture, &/or gestures
  • Difficulty with changes in classroom, seating, & syllabi
  • Sensory sensitivity (lights, sounds, touch, smells)
  • May have delayed verbal or written responses
  • May misunderstand tone of voice, jokes, facial expressions, sarcasm, & other subtle messages
  • May become easily overwhelmed
  • May come across as argumentative, rude, or monopolizing class discussion
  • Displays literal & concrete thinking patterns
  • May use calming or focusing “self-stimming” strategies such as rocking, tapping, or pacing
  • Oddities in vocal pitch, volume intonation
  • May be easily distracted, particularly in long classes
  • Strong, narrow interests


  • Above average to superior intellect
  • Passionate commitment to ideas
  • Strong sense of equality & justice
  • Exceptional talents in one specific area
  • Diligent with routine work & excellent memory
  • Strong pursuit of knowledge within areas of interest
  • Good visual & spatial learners
  • Original ways of solving problems


  • Initiating/sustaining effort
  • Setting boundaries
  • Working in groups
  • Initiating, planning, organizing, & carrying out tasks
  • Seeing others’ points of views
  • Understanding social rules
  • Assessing priorities & performance
  • Asking for clarification or assistance
  • Interpreting vague instructions
    Abstract concepts & seeing the ‘big picture’


  • Provide direct feedback, set clear boundaries
  • Allow breaks during class
  • Avoid cold-calling in class
  • Avoid idioms, metaphors, sarcasm
  • Consider assigning group roles
  • Provide visual learning tools and examples when possible (pictures, charts, etc.)
  • Supplement oral instructions with written instructions
  • Explain the purpose of an assignment
  • Utilize syllabus & note any changes as soon as possible

Additional Resources

Available at the Purchase College Library:

  • Zager, D., Alpern,C., McKeon, B., Maxam, S., & Mulvey, J. (2013). Educating college students with autism spectrum disorders. Routledge: NY.
  • Oslund, C. (2014). Supporting college and university students with invisible disabilities. Christy Oslund: Philadelphia, PA.