Objectives: This ongoing study examines the predictors of college success for students with ASD. Specifically, we examined factors that predict success during the freshman year of college including grades, level of anxiety and depression, life satisfaction, college adjustment and social functioning.
Methods: Participants included eleven students with high-functioning ASD who were enrolled in their first year in one of two university-based college transition programs. Each student completed measures of social, emotional, and academic functioning at the beginning of their first semester, at the end of their first semester, and at the end of their second semester. Internalizing symptoms (i.e., anxiety and depression) were measured by the Behavioral Assessment Scale for Children College Report Form. College adjustment was assessed by the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire. Overall life satisfaction was measured using the Brief Multidimensional Life Satisfaction Scale. Academic outcome was assessed by grade point average (GPA).
Results: Thus far, analyses have been conducted examining the relation between variables at the beginning of the first semester of college. Adjustment to college was negatively correlated with internalizing symptoms, r(10)=-.83, p=.001, such that students who had higher levels of internalizing reportedly made poorer adjustment to college. Further, students with higher levels of internalizing symptoms also rated themselves lower in terms of life satisfaction, r(10)=-.66, p=.03. Preliminary outcome data (i.e., mid-semester grades) were available for 4 students. (One university does not have a formal mid-semester grade report.) Students with higher levels of anxiety and depression at the beginning of college had lower mid-term GPAs, r(3)=-.96; p=.04. Finally, students who reported better adjustment to college had higher midterm GPAs, r(3)=.96, p=.04. Complete outcome data from the end of the first semester are currently being collected including end-of-term grades, adjustment to college, and internalizing symptoms.
Conclusions: These results have significant implications for college transition programs supporting students with ASD. First, anxiety and depression were highly correlated with a number of negative outcomes such as lower grades, life satisfaction, and social adjustment. This suggests that screening for and targeting symptoms of anxiety and depression through therapeutic interventions is a critical part of working with students with ASD. Second, results suggest that students that struggle in adjusting to college life may experience more difficulties with depression and low grades. Therefore, it is important to provide supports while beginning students are becoming oriented to being on campus and living away from home for the first time.