Student-Professor Relationships and Needs Among University Students with ASD or ADHD: Student and Professor Perspectives

Friday, May 13, 2016: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
S. M. Zeedyk1, Y. Bolourian2 and J. Blacher2, (1)Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, (2)University of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA

Increasingly, young adults with ASD are attending 4-year universities (Shattuck et al., 2012). At the postsecondary level, most supports offered during the K-12 years are no longer available (VanBergeijk et al., 2008), and accommodations at many campuses present challenges for students with ASD.  Therefore, it is imperative to consider the role of university professors.  Further, there is a high level of comorbid ADHD symptoms among individuals with ASD (van der Meer et al., 2012).  Thus, students with ASD may share similar experiences in college as their peers with ADHD. 


The present study aimed to evaluate the needs of college students with ASD or ADHD, including the similarities and differences identified between the groups.  Additionally, we sought to identify the knowledge (or lack thereof) that faculty members possessed about working with these students.


Participants included 18 professors, 13 students with ASD, and 18 students with ADHD, all from 4-year universities.  Students and professors participated in individual semi-structured interviews, which were transcribed and analyzed through an iterative coding process to identify common themes.  


Preliminary analyses of the interviews with professors and students with ASD revealed six main themes: (1) Autism is an invisible disability (e.g., One professor discussing a colleague’s attitude disclosed, “He didn’t think he needed to provide accommodations to students who appeared normal.”); (2) Available services (e.g., academic accommodations were described as “a perfunctory/one size fits all” approach); (3) Things professors need to know (e.g., One student indicated that he switched majors because he was required to change lab partners almost daily; he explained that the new major was “more consistent,” and he didn’t have to constantly meet new people.); (4) Interactions between students and professors (e.g., One professor described a student who did not understand college classroom etiquette, “It took a little bit of management because one of the characteristics of his specific position on the spectrum is he’s not shy at all about talking.  So it was a matter of helping him learn when not to talk… It was a great learning experience for me as a teacher.”  Themes unique to the faculty interviews included, (5) Interest in autism (i.e., professors’ personal and professional interests in ASD); and (6) Education/training in autism (e.g., One professor explained, “I would like to know what needs – what special needs they have?  What can I expect in terms of their behavior or their frustration or their anxiety.”)  Analyses of the interviews with students with ADHD are ongoing.  Comparison of the overlap and discrepancies between the two student groups will be identified.


University professors have limited knowledge about working with students with ASD or ADHD.  Unfortunately, available services are primarily geared toward students with learning disabilities.  Changes in the administration of campus disability services and better faculty training may be useful in aiding these students to be more successful in college.  Understanding the challenges faced by these students through in-depth accounts is valuable in uncovering the areas of need in assisting them at the postsecondary level.