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Abstract

Providing resources and support to college students during the COVID-19 global pandemic has produced unique challenges for all students, particularly those with autism. In March 2020, halfway through the spring term, the COVID-19 global pandemic forced most institutions of higher education across the country to move all instruction and support to an online, remote format, including those for students with autism. Colleges and autism support programs are now grappling with how to effectively support students amid a global pandemic. Yet there is little information available about how students’ needs have changed with this new environment. In this exploratory study, 76 college students with autism from across the country answered a series of questions (both Likert scale and open-ended) about their anxieties related to COVID-19 and attending college. The data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and thematic analysis. Results revealed that students are most anxious about getting sick or spreading COVID-19 to others and least anxious about wearing masks and needing to socially distance. This paper also profiles the adjustments made to several college autism support programs (led by the authors) in order to accommodate the changes to college campuses and the impact on student needs. The survey results and recent experiences across programs will inform recommendations for colleges as they build toward more inclusive, supportive campus environments and respond to crises like the pandemic.

Plain Language Summary

Many college students with autism have had to learn online because of COVID-19. We sent a survey to autistic college students in the summer of 2020. The questions were about COVID-19 and going back to school. The students talked about getting sick with the virus or getting other people sick. They were not scared to wear masks or social distance. Students wanted help with classes and making friends. They also wanted help with mental health. We end the paper with things autism programs can do to help students.

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