Autism gets redefined for profs, campus admin

Autism a good fit for higher-ed

Besides offering in-classroom support and more social campus activities, Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University, believes the culture of higher education may be just the place for students with autism.

“A lot of people at colleges are aware of dealing with autism (and Asperger’s syndrome; I will refer generally to the autism spectrum) in their ‘special needs’ programs,” writes Cowen for the Chronicle of Higher Education. “The more complex reality is that there is a lot more autism in higher education than most of us realize. It’s not just ‘special needs’ students but also our valedictorians, our faculty members, and yes—sometimes—our administrators.”

Cowen argues that the American university is an environment “especially conducive to autistics,” for a variety of their skills, but especially their preference for stable environments, the ability to choose their own hours and work at home, and the ability to work on focused projects for long periods of time.

“Does that sound familiar?” asks Cowen. “The modern college or university is often ideal or at least relatively good at providing those kinds of environments. While there is plenty of discrimination against autistics, most people in American universities are so blind to the notion of high-achieving autistics that one prejudice cancels out the other, to the benefit of many of the autistics in universities.”

Cowen also notes many prestigious university alumni in his article that have also been diagnosed with autism. Read the article.

“The point is not to convince you of any single profile of autistics or to replace your old stereotypes with new ones,” explains Cowen. “Rather, we keep on learning that the diversity of autistics is greater than we used to think.”

Another way of putting it, he says, is that all students are special-needs students requiring lots of help.

“The non-autistic students do not represent some ideal point that everyone is striving to attain, but rather both autistic and non-autistic students are trying to learn the specialized skills of the other group, as well as perfecting their own skills.”

For faculty and campuses interested in learning more about students with ASD, as well as what other institutions are doing to better support students with autism:

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