College Transition Program 

Programming Designed to Serve Students Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Westminster College’s Living and Learning Environment

In February of 2010, in fact, the APA proposed revisions to the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that will fold the diagnostic categories of Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) into the single category of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  The proposed revisions are a result of a growing body of psychological research describing autism as a developmental disorder marked by peculiarities and deficiencies, on a spectrum ranging from mild to severe, in communication, socialization, movement, interests, and other forms of thought and behavior.  The proposed revisions are also a result of a growing body of research in neurobiology that identifies specific deficits in the brain system that characterizes individuals who are diagnosed with ASD.  It is likely that the category of ASD will also be used to diagnose the previously distinguished categories of classic autism, Rett syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder.  Other conditions that share characteristics with Asperger’s Syndrome, like Semantic Pragmatic Language Disorder, Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD), Hyperlexia, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Social Phobia, continue to confuse debate about the accuracy of one diagnosis over or in addition to another. 

Regardless of the diagnosis students are given by educational and neuropsychological evaluators, Westminster College is serving increasing numbers of students diagnosed with disorders that cluster around similar characteristics:  strong verbal reasoning ability, slow processing speed, socially awkward behaviors, sensory hypersensitivity, motor clumsiness, obsessive compulsive tendencies, anxiety, depression and difficulties with executive skill functions such as attention, organization, and time management and with semantic and pragmatic aspects of language.  Because these characteristics directly impact students’ academic and social success in Westminster College’s living and learning community and can also directly impact the living and learning communities of students’ peers, the workshop was facilitated by a member of the professional academic staff in the Learning Opportunities Center (LOC) and the Director of Counseling and Health Services at the time.  The workshop was designed to provide opportunities for the students to discuss and examine shared experiences, interests, and challenges with each other.  The workshop succeeded in creating the first safe and entertaining social group to which many of the students had ever belonged and all of the students indicated their intention of showing up at the same time the following year with the expectation of the workshop’s continuation. 

The following year, the workshop was co-facilitated by a member of the LOC’s professional academic staff and an individual with a graduate degree in Social Work, who held a half-time appointment with Counseling and Health Services and a half-time appointment with Residential and Greek Life.  As a result of daily interactions and weekly meetings with students in the College Transition Workshop, they found themselves encouraging and supporting students’ developmental progression in several critical areas:  self-care, autonomy, time management, the change process, receptivity to human difference, social situations, and engagement in the life of the college inside and outside of the classroom.  Their efforts also demonstrate the need and opportunities for collaboration between staff members in all aspects of Westminster College’s living and learning environment to support the academic and social success of students who are diagnosed with ASD and similar and overlapping conditions.  Despite their similarities, students who are enrolled in the College Transition Workshop are all unique individuals with very specific strengths and concerns. 

Students enrolled in the College Transition Workshop came to Westminster College because of the longstanding reputation of the Learning Disabilities Program and because of the growing success of the College’s work with students diagnosed with ASD, which has largely been shared through word-of-mouth.  Students diagnosed with ASD now represent about 40% of the entering freshmen in the Learning Disabilities Program.  Westminster College officially recognized the College Transition Program as distinct from the Learning Disabilities Program and designated direction of the program to one full-time member of the professional academic staff in 2011.  In doing so, Westminster College has much to gain, specifically enhanced enrollment of students with an excellent record of retention and low record of problematic behavior.

Westminster College also has much to offer students with ASD.  The CTP’s services are tailored to meet the specific needs of students with professionally diagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and overlapping neurodevelopmental disorders such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.  Services include:

  • One-on-one academic advising;
  • Enrollment in supplemental courses designed to encourage and support academic success in the Humanities, Natural and Mathematical Sciences, and Social Sciences;
  • Extended-time testing;
  • Class notes;
  • Audio resources;
  • Dictation;
  • Access to a quiet and/or supportive study environment;
  • The development of access plans describing the functional impact of documented disabilities in academic coursework and housing and identifying and requesting adaptations; and
  • Communications with parents and members of the faculty, administration, and staff as wanted and/or needed.

Students who are admitted to and enroll in the CTP pay an additional fee for each semester they are in the program.  For more information on the current fee schedule, please contact the Office of Enrollment Services at 1-800-475-3361.

i   National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.  “Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet,” January 2005 (Bethesda, MD:  OCPL: NIH Publication No. 05-5624).  Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/asperger/detail_asperger.htm.

ii   National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

iii  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  “Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders—Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, United States, 2006.”  (Atlanta, GA).  Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html