Facilitators and Barriers of Autistic Students’ Experiences: An Exploratory Thematic Analysis
thesisposted on 2020-08-01, 00:00 authored by Helen Rottier
Autistic and neurodivergent students are graduating from high school and entering postsecondary education at increasing rates; it is estimated that 1-2% of all postsecondary students in the US meet criteria for autism, and even more have other neurodivergent conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities. This growing student population has unique needs, challenges, and experiences in higher education. Increasingly, colleges and universities are offering disability services and other dedicated supports to meet the needs of autistic and neurodivergent students. However, most of the research on these students’ experiences comes from the perspective of parents, educators, administrators, and other professionals, rather than from the students themselves. Additionally, most research focuses on deficits and challenges, with little research exploring positive aspects of campus life for disabled students. This thesis centers student perspectives on strategies to promote success and satisfaction in higher education. Responses were collected from a national online survey of enrolled autistic and neurodivergent students across the United States conducted in 2019. The survey included qualitative questions on positive and negative aspects of students’ college life. Using thematic analysis, I identified facilitators, barriers, and resources that impact neurodivergent students’ experiences. Key facilitators included opportunities for exploration and personal growth and relationships with mentors, peers, and communities, while key barriers included disability-related discrimination, mental health, and socialization. Accommodations emerged as both a facilitator and barrier. Students also reported using academic support resources more frequently and effectively than specific disability resources. This research has implications for student support programs, especially accommodations and disability services, and can be used to direct students toward effective resources and strategies for navigating higher education.