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Autism and Accommodations in Higher Education: Insights from the Autism Community Review

Accommodations and their role in education are vitally important to all who have disabilities. Accommodations are used to assist those who have a more difficult time performing certain educational tasks like taking tests, doing projects and working in groups, among other academic endeavors. However, those who have autism usually have more severe reactions to their environment than those with other disabilities. This combined with the ignorance in the larger community surrounding the needs of individuals who have autism makes accommodating these individuals a challenge for higher education institutions. Autism lies on a spectrum, so there is no one-size-fits-all accommodation for those with autism. This article seeks to explore this area of higher education through the lens of those with autism.

Overall, the article explores the responses to a survey and the processes used to obtain these responses. Sarrett designed an online survey with questions that had answers that could be put into a multiple-choice format while also including a few open-ended questions. The survey was then sent out to various online forums to allow individuals who identified as having autism while also attending/having attended an institution of higher education to respond anonymously. The survey was left open for a significant amount of time to allow participants ample time to respond. There was also a follow-up focus group that allowed the researcher and the participants to respond to one another over 4 days via an online format. The results of the study showed that only 65% (43 individuals) of individuals surveyed applied for accommodations and that 62% (41 individuals) actually received them. The accommodations ranged from extended test time and note taking to lecture recording and breaks during class.

The strengths of this study are few; however, this does not hinder its importance. From a scientific data standpoint, the study provides a lot of data on the personalized insight of those that participated. However, this data is highly specific and personalized to the individuals in the study. There is a plethora of variables not included in the study. For example, what type of higher education did they attend, were they private or public, community colleges, trade schools, what resources did these schools have access too, what extracurriculars are offered to support students, what are the faculty to student ratios, where are the schools located, what are the backgrounds of these individuals (prior to higher education), and many more. Also, only 49% of participants had been diagnosed with autism. Since this is a small sample size, this is highly significant.

This study could be highly refined and broken into a series of studies that could last years. Further studies would need to be more specific and examine the individual subjects in much greater detail. This is necessary to get a more accurate portrayal of what people with autism encounter in this aspect of higher education. The sample size also needs to be many times larger to obtain sufficient insight into the role of accommodations in the lives of those with autism. Further research can be done in a similar format as this study, however, there certainly needs to be a more microscopic perspective taken in studying the individuals within a much larger sample size.

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