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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Investigating the experiences of students with high-functioning autism/Asperger's disorder attending college or university Nirmal, Rashmeen


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by clinically significant impairments in social interaction and communication and repetitive, restricted behaviours. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (2014), the prevalence of ASD in children has increased to 1 in 68, with more children being identified without significant cognitive impairment (i.e., high-functioning autism [HFA]). With the increase in the number of children diagnosed with HFA, there is likely to be an increase of young adults with HFA attending college or university, as they are generally capable of meeting the academic demands of postsecondary education. Unfortunately, studies have demonstrated poor postsecondary educational outcomes for students with HFA (e.g., Shattuck et al., 2012). Despite having the neurocognitive and academic ability to attend college or university, there are many students with HFA who do not enroll in postsecondary education or drop out soon after entry (Shattuck et al., 2012). There is a critical need to better understand the experiences of students with HFA in postsecondary education to help foster their postsecondary success. To that end, this study investigated the meaning of the lived experiences of students with HFA currently attending college or university. Using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis as the method of inquiry, 12 postsecondary students (9 males and 3 females) diagnosed with either HFA or Asperger’s Disorder engaged in detailed, in-depth interviews with the researcher. Eight broad themes and corresponding subthemes emerged from the data analysis that depicts the phenomenon of attending college or university as students with HFA. The themes are 1) Managing Academic Expectations; 2) Experiencing Support; 3) Managing Autism Spectrum Disorder and Related Symptoms; 4) Reference to or Influence of Past Experiences; 5) Having a Sense of Appreciation; 6) Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder by Others and Self; 7) Managing the Transition; and 8) Entering a New Social World. Validity strategies were used to ensure scientific rigour and credibility of the research findings. The findings, including significant contributions of the study, are discussed in relation to the extant literature. Strengths and limitations of the study as well as implications for psychologists, educators, and policy development are addressed.

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