International Meeting for Autism Research: Increasing Executive Functioning Skills for College Students Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Increasing Executive Functioning Skills for College Students Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Friday, May 13, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
11:00 AM
M. Boman, Kelly Autism Program at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY

For many individuals diagnosed with Aspergers, attending college can be overwhelming due to their limited Executive Functioning skills. This research demonstrates how these skills were developed with 37 individuals diagnosed with ASD at the Kelly Autism Program so that they could live in the dormitory and be productive full-time students like their peers. Using Executive Function Theory and Social Information Processing, the program works toward productivity, independence, and employability for these individuals.

Many individuals with ASD are academically capable of attending college, but they struggle with the various Executive Functioning Skills necessary for their success. These skills include: inhibiting, shifting, controlling emotions, initiating, working memory, planning/organizing schedules, organizing materials, and monitoring. Often their academic skills are adequate to pass the courses, but they struggle with attendance, handing in their assignments, time management, or communicating/working with their peers or professors. These simple tasks interfere with their success within the university setting.


To increase the success of students attending college while increasing their Executive Functioning skills so that they can complete their course work and live independently and become employable.


Thirty seven college students, who were enrolled in full-time courses as well as living in the dormitory, participated in the Kelly Autism Program Circle of Support. These students received researched based support as well as meta-cognitive social skills training. Results of these experiences were measured using the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF) as well as the Arc’s Self-Determination Scale, which were administered each semester.


For most of the participants, a steady increase in their Executive Functioning skills was reported according the assessments. This was a reflection of the development of their independence as well as their success as a college student. Some participants and parents rated their Executive Functioning abilities outstanding the first semester as many were so elated that they were accepted into the university and the program. After receiving their first grades and the reality of what the university experience entailed, the scores appeared to be a more accurate evaluation of the participants’ abilities. For some who were not successful in the program, the need to hide their disability (non acceptance of the ASD label) or parents who wanted to be actively involved in the college experience were identifying characteristics regarding the students’ success.


The research documents that with additional support, individuals with ASD can be successful in the university setting. With the estimated annual economic cost of autism at $35 billion (Ganz, 2006), more individuals with the diagnosis of ASD need to be successful as they pursue a postsecondary degree. For many of these students, additional support is necessary besides the typical academic support. The social and behavioral training needs to address the Executive Function skills necessary to carry through simple tasks which will be expected in the workforce. For this reason, these lessons must be taught and practiced so that the students can graduate with a degree as well as becoming productive, independent, and employable community members.

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