Disability Services for Students

302 Memorial Union Univeristy of Rhode Island Kingston, RI 02881


Think Big, We Do.
Rhode Island Seal

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

AUTISIM SPECTRUM DISORDER (ASD) is reported by approximately 2% of the students who identify to URI Disability Services for Students.  Jane Thierfield Brown, an expert on college students with ASD, has said “if you meet one student with ASD, you have met one student with ASD.” While there are some similar characteristics among students, we cannot in any way generalize the condition.


The diagnostic criteria for ASD outlined in the DSM-V states that the following symptoms were present in early childhood and are a clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, and educational areas of current functioning:

  1. Persistent difficulty with social communication and social interaction including but not limited to social-emotional reciprocity; non-verbal communicative behaviors; developing and maintaining relationships.
  2. Restricted repetitive patterns of behavior interest or activities such as stereotyped motor movements, insistence on sameness, fixated interests, and hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input.

How ASD may affect student participation:

Strengths (greatly variable depending on the student):

  • Above average to superior intellect
  • Diligent routine
  • Excellent memory
  • Original ways of problem solving

Struggles (greatly variable depending on the student):

  • Initiating, planning and organizing tasks
  • Initiating conversations or understanding social rules for conversatiaon
  • Seeing other’s points of view
  • Working in groups
  • Assessing priorities
  • Seeing “the big picture”
  • Reading “between the lines”
  • Interpreting irony, sarcasm, metaphors

Helpful strategies for instructing students:

  1. Provide direct feedback, set clear boundaries
  2. Allow student to volunteer in class rather than call on them
  3. Avoid or restate idioms, metaphors, sarcasm or irony, i.e. there is great variability in students’ ability to understand such nuances. (Also helpful when a student’s native language is not English)
  4. Provide structure when assigning group roles
  5. Provide visual learning aids when possible
  6. Supplement oral instruction with written instructions

Credit to Laurie Ackles, Spectrum Support Program at RIT for strengths, struggles and strategies.

Copyright © 2017 University of Rhode Island.

The University of Rhode Island
Think Big, We Do.
A-ZDirectoryContact UsJump to top