The Relationship Between ASD Symptoms and Adjustment to College

Friday, May 13, 2016: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
S. M. Ryan1, L. K. Baker2, S. W. Eldred2 and J. A. Rankin3, (1)The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, (2)Psychology, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, (3)Stony Book University, Stony Brook, NY

Estimates suggest that 46% of individuals with an ASD diagnosis have average or better cognitive functioning (CDC, 2014). According to the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS-2), 32% of students with an ASD diagnosis attend college (Wei, et al., 2012) with fewer than 20% of those enrolling in a 4-year university completing a degree (Shattuck, et al., 2012). In order to increase successful completion of college degrees it is important to examine how ASD symptoms effect students’ adjustment to college. Trevisan et al., (2015) found that Broader Autism Phenotype symptoms in neurotypical students  significantly predicted adjustment to college as measured by the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire; however, this study did not examine symptoms in individuals with an ASD diagnosis. 


The purpose of the current study is to examine the relationship between ASD symptoms as measured by the SRS-2 and adjustment to college as measured by the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire and the students’ GPA at the end of the first academic year.


The current study included 10 degree-seeking college students who were admitted to an ASD Specific support program at a major public university. The sample included students across 3 cohorts (9 males/1 female; 7 freshmen/3 transfer students). Students were paired with a therapist-mentor who met with them 3 times per week to address academic organization, self-advocacy, social skill development, career building skills, and coping with anxiety and/or depression. Students were administered a battery of measures at summer orientation prior to beginning college and then each subsequent semester. The current study examined the correlation among ASD symptoms as reported by parents on the Social Responsiveness scale, Second Edition (SRS-2), the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire completed at the end of the first academic year, and the cumulative GPA at the end of the first academic year.


Three subscales of the SRS-2 were significantly correlated with overall adjustment to college as measured by the SACQ. Specifically, there was a significant negative correlation between the SRS-2 Communication scale and the SACQ (r=-.660, p=.038), the SRS-2 Social Motivation and the SACQ (r=-827, p=.003), and SRS-2 Restricted Interests and Repetitive Behaviors and the SACQ (r=-.689, p=.028). High levels of symptoms were associated with poorer adjustment to college. It should be noted that all but one student in the sample had self-reported adjustment scores in the average range. GPA at the end of the first academic year did not correlate with any subscales of the SRS-2. Six additional data points from the 4th cohort will be added prior to presentation of this study in May 2016.


Students with an ASD face unique challenges related to their ASD symptoms which can affect adjustment to the college setting and possibly retention in college as studies suggest that adjustment to college is one predictor of retention in college (Gerdes, et al 1994). Future studies with a larger sample size will be needed to confirm these findings and to further examine more specific aspects of college adjustment (i.e., academic, social, emotional).