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A Comparison of Autistic and Non-Autistic College Students' Perceived Challenges and Engagement in Self-Advocacy.

PURPOSE: Autistic students experience lower college graduation rates than their peers, affecting future opportunities. Self-advocacy is crucial for successful adaptation in postsecondary settings and is documented as a challenge for autistic students. The purpose of the study was to examine autistic college students' engagement in self-advocacy and specific college-related challenges as compared to their neurodivergent and neurotypical peers.

METHOD: This study used a cross-sectional survey design to compare perceptions related to self-advocacy and college-related challenges across three groups of students: autistic students, students with a disability other than autism, and nondisabled students. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to compare survey responses across groups.

RESULTS: Differences in the groups' perceptions of their engagement in overall self-advocacy and specific self-advocacy strategies were evident. Autistic students rated themselves significantly lower on self-advocacy than did students with other disabilities. When compared to their nondisabled peers, the autistic students and those with other disabilities were less likely to report comfort interacting in the classroom, including less interest in group work, and more difficulty interacting with unfamiliar peers. In addition, the autistic students were more likely to report difficulty recognizing the need for academic assistance when compared to both peer groups. Autistic students also reported greater social challenges in the college setting than their nondisabled peers, and both neurodivergent groups of students reported significantly more challenges, overall, navigating the college setting than did their nondisabled peers.

CONCLUSIONS: Findings highlight the need for systematic, individualized self-advocacy supports for autistic and other neurodivergent college students. In addition, findings show the need to educate peers and professors about autism and self-advocacy to foster a welcoming college environment. Finally, findings suggest the need for increased social support and opportunities for social integration within postsecondary settings. Speech-language pathologists play a critical role in implementing these next steps.

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