The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual — the bible of the American Psychological Association — first recognized Asperger’s syndrome as a developmental disorder in 1994. And now, as the first generation to be diagnosed in childhood enters college, universities are clamoring to develop programs to accommodate them.
“The disability offices are starting to get these students with this diagnosis, and there’s very little in the way of set rules right now. So every college has to come up with their own program,” says Jennifer Hughes, who specializes in helping students with Asperger’s at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga.
“In the ’90s, we had kids that were labeled as learning disabled or attention deficit disorder or even with a personality disorder, but really they had the traits of Asperger’s,” says Dianne Rogers, who has helped develop an Asperger’s specific program at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa. “Frankly, we weren’t meeting the needs of those kids back then, because we weren’t looking beyond academic accommodations. And most people with Asperger’s really have very limited academic concerns.”
However, these students do have a lot of social concerns, and finding a college that can guarantee plenty of one-on-one attention from professors and staff is key to a productive transition.
“We no longer view Asperger’s as a condition that needs to be cured,” says Rogers. “Yes, there is some quirky behavior and misunderstanding. But they don’t have a pathology that needs to be cured. As a parent, that’s the acceptance you should expect at the college your child is attending.”