Using Peers As Supports for Adult College Students with ASD
As a result of the increased prevalence rate (CDC, 2014), a larger of population of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and normal intelligence are transitioning into college. While ‘high functioning’ individuals have the intellectual capability to participate in postsecondary education, their success is often stymied by difficulties in the areas of executive functioning, social communication, and mental health. Currently, these challenges are met with a dearth of research examining the effectiveness of supports and programs designed to promote success (Gelbar, Smith, & Reichow, 2014), highlighting the need for systematic studies with this population.
This study seeks to evaluate the initial effectiveness of the College Peer Coach Program for adult college students with ASD. We hypothesize that adults who participate in the program will report positive gains on measures of well-being and executive functioning between baseline and post-intervention.
Five adults diagnosed with ASD, currently enrolled at a local post-secondary institution, were initially recruited for the current study. Participants, all of whom are male, range in age (18 to 24) and academic rank (1 freshman, 3 sophomores, and 1 junior). A series of self-report measures related to well-being (e.g., WHOQOL-BREF, GAD-7, PHQ-9), executive functioning (BRIEF-A), and reported needs (College Student Needs Assessment) are administered at the start and conclusion of each semester. Participants were randomly assigned to a trained, undergraduate Peer Coach to meet on a weekly basis for 12 weeks each semester of participation. Peer Coaches were trained to support participants in areas related to social participation, communication, college adjustment, and independence using four strategies either evidence-based for children and adolescents with ASD or recommended for college students with ASD by experts in the literature: visual supports, role-playing, direct questioning, and environmental arrangements (Wong, et al., 2014; Wolf, Brown, & Bork, 2009; VanBergeijk, Klin, & Volkmar, 2008).
Preliminary analyses of baseline measures (N=5) confirm significant need in the areas of social participation, executive functioning, and well-being. WHOQOL-BREF scores indicated lower quality of life ratings in the social domain (mean domain score = 9.00) compared to averages of a larger sample of individuals with similar demographics (Skevington, Lotfy, & O’Connell, 2004). BRIEF-A scores highlight difficulties in the area of metacognition, (mean T-score= 62.00); with the greater difficulty reported on the initiating, shifting attention, and planning/organizing subscales (mean T-scores: 60.00 for all). Participants also endorsed an elevated number of depression symptoms according to PHQ-9 scores (mean= 5.8). An additional three to five participants will be recruited during the following semester. Pre-intervention and post-intervention score differences on all outcome measures will be presented.
These preliminary results provide an indication of challenges reported by current college students with ASD. In concordance with the literature, this sample experiences particular difficulties in the areas of executive functioning and social participation. Future analysis of the relationship between peer support and outcome measures will be discussed.