Autism Awareness: More Teens Going to College

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KENT, Ohio-- For the first time, more teenagers with autism are enrolling in college, according to a study by a leading university.

Nicholas Piazza, 19, is a student at Kent State University who hasn’t missed a class during his freshman year.

“Intro to philosophy, algebra and trig, then we have career navigation,” said Nick, who can easily run through the coursework that keeps him busy. He also works 25 hours a week and makes time for the chess club.

While he seems like your typical college student, Nick happens to have high-functioning autism, commonly known as Asperger syndrome.

“I’m doing good. I’m doing good,” said Nick. “Got As and Bs right now. I’ll try to get a little better, but you can’t always be perfect, right?”

“The thing about Asperger’s is, the individuals have average to above-average intellectual capacity,” said Lisa Audet. She is a speech language pathologist who has been with Kent State for 12 years. Over the past decade, she has seen a dramatic rise in the number of college-bound kids with autism.

“This is a whole group that has been aging out of the high school realm and into college-bound age and they have incredible strengths that need to be tapped and can really provide a service to the community and to society,” said Audet.

That is accurate, according to a study released in March by Harvard University.  Researchers said, “the factors contributing to the increased prevalence…including heightened public awareness, improved screening…and, notably, improved ability to recognize and diagnose higher-functioning individuals…who may have been overlooked in the past.”

“It’s really hopeful for parents,” said Audet.

At Kent, they have a program where students with autism can voluntarily register and let the school know they’re on campus. Right now, they have approximately 25, which is up from just five people a few years ago. According to Audet, there are likely many more who don’t want to register.

“I think they don’t want people to know. They don't wanna stand out any more than they already have throughout their academic history,” said Audet.

The increase in enrollment is likely connected to an increase in kids diagnosed with autism. That number is now 1 in 68, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I feel fine. I don’t really notice anything - if I told someone they wouldn’t even know I had it, because I sorta improved my social skills and everything else,” said Nick, who’s considering a future as a math teacher.

He’s also already making plans to return to school in the fall. “I like living on campus,” said Nick. “I’m probably living on campus next year in the same building, same room number, same floor and everything.”

Click here for more information on Kent State University.

Click here for more on autism awareness.