Academically gifted students with autism can prepare themselves for success in college – Natural Self Esteem

Students who are both academically gifted and on the autism spectrum can enjoy greater success in college based on the right high school experience. That’s the finding of research conducted by a 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 closing deficits, it should be about developing talent,” says Sally Reis, Letitia Neag Morgan Chair in Educational Psychology. “We would love to see more teachers and parents use the interests and strengths of these students to address their deficiencies. You can do that in remedial classes, but it’s completely unsuitable for this group. We want people to find something these kids enjoy doing based on their interests.”

The study used the largest sample of graduate students who also have autism of any research study ever conducted. The authors were interested in exploring a group that typically focuses on disabilities rather than talents and abilities.

“We wanted to do a study that used reverse engineering in a sense,” says Reis. “So many bright students with autism don’t make it through college.”

As a result, the team narrowed their sample to include students who had already completed a number of years at various highly competitive universities and some who had recently graduated.

“One of the problems these students face is that their autism can mask their talents, or their talents can mask their autism,” says Joseph Madaus, director of the Collaborative on Postsecondary Education and Disability and a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology . “Another challenge is that because of their performance in high school, they may not get some of the special education services they may need.

“We want to challenge these students and put them in the most rigorous academic curriculum possible in high school, not only to capitalize on their strengths and passions, but also to prepare them for higher education.”

Extracurricular activities in high school also play an important role in academic success at the next level for these students.

“By participating in work that interests and excites them, these students put themselves in situations where they can develop better social skills and strategies,” says Nicholas Gelbar, associate research professor at UConn. “Many of the students in our sample were also involved in these types of college activities, which connected them better to their campus community, allowing them to do better academically. These passions can help balance some of the challenges they face in school and in the work environment.”

The researchers hope their work will serve as a positive signal to parents and students.

“Many of these students are lonely and have social challenges,” says Reis. “Meaningful work can be an outlet, and we have to consider how much talent is wasted when these young people go to college and drop out because of isolating events.”

Reis offered parents of talented students with autism specific advice for their high school years to help them prepare for college.

“They have to make sure their student is within their area of ​​interest and ability in at least one or two extremely challenging courses,” says Reis. “Then try to find an extracurricular activity that relates to their interests and gives them an opportunity to make friends and excel in something outside of academia. It can be something related to their school or something they do on the weekends, like a class at a science center.

“We also learned that many of these young people are doing well in college because their parents were able to put them on a one- or two-week summer residency program. This sleepover experience really helps them when they get to college. We understand it costs money and not everyone can, but there are grants and many organizations that support young people with autism.”

Reis said it’s also important that these students have an adult in their high school who can serve as a support system and understand them.

“Many of these young people have a limited social battery and just need time to recharge,” says Reis. “So every one of our students who did well in college had a counselor, teacher, or someone they got help and support from.”

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