ASD in the University: University of Alabama’s ACTS Program

Coming into college can be tough.  For many people, it’s their first time living separate from their parents, and they’re thrown into an environment with many new faces.  This adjustment can be especially difficult for students on the Autism Spectrum given their difficulties with executive function and social interactions as well as their higher risk for anxiety and depression.

The Gateway at The University of Alabama

That’s why in 2006, The University of Alabama started the ASD College Transition and Support Program, more commonly known as the UA-ACTS Program.  The program began with just one student, and has since grown to 18 students and received recognition as one of the top University programs for undergraduates with ASD .

UA-ACTS’s Mission Statement is, “To facilitate a campus environment that promotes an enjoyable and successful college experience for students with ASD in preparation for their future endeavors.”

The program uses support meetings and incremental check-ins on the students to support them in areas that typically challenge students with ASD.  The UA-graduate psychology students are trained to mentor the students at tri-weekly meetings with a focus on academics, social-living, and psychological/emotional well-being.  

To help the students with executive function,the mentors focus on organization, planning for homework, studying, and class attendance at the academic meetings.  Then for the social-living meetings, the mentors will often discuss living in college, relationships, friendships, and dating to address difficulties students may face in these areas.  Lastly, the mentors discuss emotional and psychological well-being with the students, and are there to guide the students to on-campus counseling and psychological resources if they feel it’s necessary.

Although the program offers many great support systems for students, there are a few limitations to the program.  First, the program is costly.  In addition to the tuition and costs associated with attending the University of Alabama, they must pay an additional $3,600 per semester.  This can serve as a barrier to some families and caregivers from being able to support a student in this program. The literature provided on the UA-ACTS website does not discuss any scholarships available for the program.  

Next, for admission students must be admitted into UA on their own merit.  It appears that the program does not work with the admissions department at the university to admit Autistic individuals into the school.  Some ASD individuals may be very gifted, but struggle in Neurotypical schooling environments lower.  Different admissions criteria may be necessary for some Autistic students.

Aerial View of the University of Alabama

Although the program has some limits, it offers a comprehensive support structure for students with ASD that may not have been able to attend a 4-year university without a program like UA-ACTS.  Providing extra structure and resources for Autistic students sets them up to succeed and show their full potential, despite the new difficulties that attending college might bring.

Currently, William & Mary has no formal program like UA-ACTS for Neurodiverse students.  The W&M Neurodiversity Initiative could possibly look into establishing a similar program at W&M.  Incorporating a support program that pairs graduate psychology or School of Education students would help students with ASD adjust to W&M and make the school more accessible to the Neurodiverse community.

Speak Your Mind