What We’ve Done

The work of the College Autism Network (CAN) began informally during the fall semester of 2014. The College Autism Network was formally incorporated as a non-profit organization in January 2016 and dissolved its 501c3 status when it became a subsidiary under NASPA in 2020. That partnership ended in 2021. In 2022, CAN reincorporated as an independent, 501c3 organization. CAN now enjoys a partnership with the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt University, where our work–building and maintaining a network of higher education autism professionals and self-advocates, complements the Frist Center’s mission of innovation in technology and the workplace. CAN is, however, an independent organization with its own board of directors, advisory boards and activities.

Each year, we host the College Autism Summit, a professional conference. Since 2017, the Summit has been a place for people who support autistic college students, and for self-advocates themselves, to gather and share resources, ideas and challenges.

CAN has evolved to become a strong network of professionals, both scholars and practitioners, whose commitment to enhancing the access, experience and outcomes of autistic college students unites us in our work. CAN is a neurodiverse network of experts, committed professionals and new learners who share a desire to make postsecondary institutions better at serving a neurodiverse student population.

Amplifying the Voices of Autistic College Students through In-Person Interviews

Drawing from personal interviews with a diverse group of students with autism, the current study (1) amplifies these students’ voices, (2) describes tensions between their public and private identities, (3) outlines the academic, social, emotional, self-advocacy, and communication challenges they face in college, and (4) proposes both general principles and specific practices that could be leveraged to facilitate postsecondary success for students with autism.

Initial results from this study have been presented at the 2015 meeting of the American Education Research Association (AERA). Here are the slides from the presentation and the original conference paper. A revised version of the paper has now been accepted for publication.

Forthcoming Article: Cox, B. E., Thompson, K., Anderson, A., Mintz, A., Locks, T. Morgan, L., Edelstein, J., & Wolz, A (In Press at Journal of College Student Development). College experiences for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Personal identity, public disclosure, and institutional support.

This study explores how these college students with autism described their experiences within an online environment among their peers. The study used unobtrusive qualitative methods to collect and analyze data from online forum discussion posts on WrongPlanet.net. Results have uncovered a variety of student concerns about college, the existence of “safe spaces” on campus, and the variety of support services available to autistic college students.

Initial results from this study were presented at the 2015 Florida Association of Speech-Language Pathologists (FLASHA), where it was recognized as the best poster at the conference. The poster presentation is available here.

To date, few studies have attempted to synthesize the literature about college students with autism – in part because there’s been relatively little written about them. Indeed, one recent study found that the current understanding of autistic college students is based on empirical evidence from just 20 studies and only 69 students! Therefore, we take a broad approach to identifying relevant literature and review it with an eye toward developing actionable insights that can inform targeted initiatives designed to address specific issues affecting college students with autism.

Each article we review is summarized, critiqued, and explicated in short (2-3 page) annotations, available here. With these annotations, we hope to make the scholarly literature more widely accessed by researchers and more accessible to stakeholders outside the academy.