Students with
Autism Spectrum Disorder

at Florida Atlantic University

An Informational Brochure from the
Office for Students with Disabilities
Division of Student Affairs



Autism is a developmental disorder that typically appears during the first three years of life. It interferes with the normal development of the brain in the areas of reasoning, social interaction and communication skills. Autism is referred to as a “spectrum disorder,” meaning that the symptoms and characteristics can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe. People with autism experience tremendous difficulty interacting appropriately with their environment.

On college campuses today, we are seeing a number of students who are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). They can generally be distinguished from people with other forms of autism by two areas of relative strength: more normal language function and higher cognitive abilities. However, these individuals may be affected in their ability to understand and respond to the thoughts and feelings of others. They may also be prone to react strongly to loud noises, blinking lights, large crowds, etc., as assaults on their senses (sensory overload).

Although it is not known what causes this disorder, current research links it to biological or neurological differences in the brain. There appears to be a genetic basis for this disorder, and it is more prevalent in males.




  • Impaired use and understanding of nonverbal cues such as gesture and facial expression to regulate and understand social interaction
  • Failure to develop peer relationships
  • Lack of social or emotional reciprocity


  • Peculiar voice quality and speech patterns
  • Impaired comprehension, including mis-interpretation of implied meanings and figurative speech


  • Preoccupation with one or more restricted pattern(s) of interest
  • Inflexible adherence to specific non-functional routines or rituals
  • Stereotyped or repetitive motor mannerisms
  • Prone to sensory overload

No two students with ASD are alike in terms of how they are affected. However, here are some examples of what may be seen. The social behavior of persons with ASD tends to be naïve and peculiar. They may not understand jokes, irony and metaphors. Because of an intense interest in one or two topics, these individuals may talk “at” rather than “with” people, disregarding the listener’s interest. They may talk too loud, stand too close and maintain poor eye contact.

An individual with ASD usually does not accurately convey the intensity of her or his emotions until they are full blown, such that the reaction may appear to be far more intense than  the  situation   warrants.   Although the individual may crave social interaction, her or unusual manner may rebuff others, leaving the

person with ASD feeling misunderstood and isolated. Clinical depression and social anxiety are not uncommon because of these problems with social interaction.



  • Passionate about areas of special interest
  • Uneven profile of skills, attention deficits and cognitive disorganization
  • Language comprehension tends to be concrete; interprets meanings literally
  • Difficulty reading social cues
  • Speaking out inappropriately in class
  • Difficulty asking for clarification when concepts are not understood
  • Obsessive compulsive tendencies which may prevent timely completion of tasks
  • Difficulty establishing and/or maintaining appropriate relationships with faculty, staff and peers
  • Easily overwhelmed



  • Provide a detailed course syllabus with clear explanation of course expectations and adhere to it as closely as possible.
  • Use visual supports (e.g., graphs, charts, lists, pictures), concrete examples and/or hands-on material to illustrate concepts.
  • Give instructions in both verbal and written form. Rephrase instructions as needed.
  • When asking questions in class, allow extra “wait time” before expecting a response from the student.
  • Provide a review session and study questions before an exam which illustrate both the content and format of the exam.
  • Provide specific, concrete feedback regard-ing both academic and behavioral issues.
  • Take into consideration that you may not know a student’s thoughts, feelings and reasons for a behavior.
  • If certain behaviors (e.g., perseveration on a discussion topic, calling out answers) are problematic, it may be helpful to consult with the OSD regarding ways to alleviate these concerns.



To be eligible for academic accommodations at Florida Atlantic University, a student must apply for services from the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD). Academic accommodations are determined based on self-report of the disability and effective prior accommodations; observation and interaction with OSD counselor, as well as disability documentation submitted by the student. The documentation must be in the form of a psycho-educational evaluation conducted by a licensed psychologist or other practitioner qualified to conduct such an evaluation. The evaluation must include tests of aptitude and academic achievement. Communication or interpersonal skills assessment must also be included. It is helpful if documentation includes an integrated summary of the clinical interview and test scores. The documentation must state a specific DSM diagnosis and should include anticipated effects of the student’s functional limitations within the academic setting as well as suggestions for accommodating the student.

The evaluation must have been conducted within the last five years; however, the OSD reserves the right to make modifications to this time frame.



After a student has submitted an Application for Support Services and appropriate documentation of a disability to the OSD, the student will meet with an OSD counselor for an intake interview. During the intake, the student will be asked to provide information about her or his experience of disability, barriers he or she has encountered, as well as effective and ineffective prior accommodations. Appropriate accommodations are then determined based on an interactive process between the student and OSD counselor.

The student may be eligible for one or more of the following accommodations:

  • Advocacy
  • Professor notification
  • Notetaking assistance
  • Audio recording of classes
  • Additional time to complete assignments
  • Computer use for in-class writing assignments
  • Exam adaptations (e.g., extended time to take exams, distraction-reduced setting, use of computer)
  • Time management, study skills and social skills training

These accommodations are necessary for ensuring complete access to, and full participation in, the educational process. Academic standards are not to be lowered, nor should there be an alteration in the essential nature of the course or degree requirements.

For more information:

FAU Center for Autism and Related Disabilities


Note: Professors will be notified of the student’s approved accommodations in an OSD Letter of Notification presented by the student. If the student is not registered with the OSD, please refer her or him to the office.

 Last Modified 8/27/15