Darcy Kramer on Transitioning to College

Posted: July 31st, 2010 under education, interventions, life on the spectrum.
Tags: , ,

Welcome to Guest Blogger Darcy Javanne Kramer!


First, a quick introduction:  I am a counselor at the Disability Resource Center at Portland State University, the largest four-year public college in the state of Oregon.  Elizabeth asked me to guest blog about transition from high school to college for students on the spectrum, which I gladly accepted.

Abbreviation – OSD = office for students with disabilities

There are some major differences between high school and college, which can be tough for students on the spectrum to navigate.  Some of those differences include:

High School:

–Students’ time is structured and teachers provide reminders regarding deadlines

–Teachers and school counselors collaborate to support students on IEP or 504 plans

–Student progress is monitored

–Students are expected to learn facts and develop skills

–Curriculum may be modified for student success


–Students are expected to manage their own time and be aware of deadlines as described in the syllabus

–OSD determines appropriate academic accommodations, and the student is expected to communicate with professors about any anticipated needs

–Student progress is not monitored

–Students are expected to apply knowledge and analyze information

–Curriculum is not modified for student success

Students on the spectrum are encouraged to contact OSD and set up academic accommodations.  While accommodations are matched to the nature of the disability, they are also matched to the individual student’s needs.  This means that determining accommodations is as much art as science, and OSD professionals may not get it quite right on the first try.  Students need to be assertive and self-advocate if the accommodations don’t work as well as expected.

I’d love to say there’s a list of accommodations I commonly use for students on the spectrum, but there isn’t.  Determining academic accommodations for students on the spectrum is much more art than science.  I will therefore talk about what academic accommodations look like in college and make some suggestions.

In college academic accommodations do not fundamentally alter the nature or essential grading criteria of a course.  Accommodations are meant to modify how the student demonstrates the knowledge and abilities needed for the course.  Extended time for testing, a private room, a note taker in class, use of a laptop for in-class writing, and textbooks in alternative formats are examples of modifications to how students demonstrate knowledge or ability.  For students on the spectrum, these standard accommodations aren’t usually enough.

They don’t address some fundamental differences, such as understanding gist of story vs. understanding individual parts; focus on big picture, not nuances (see the trees, not the forest), metaphor and slang, and communication differences.

Some additional accommodations the OSD professionals can consider are: provide all assignments in writing and verbally; use of a laptop for in-class writing; use of assistive technology.  Assistive technology needs vary from person to person, but can be extremely beneficial.

The question for OSD professionals becomes: is providing this student with the answers to these questions a fundamental alteration to the nature of the course or grading criteria?  The answer can be found in applying the principles of universal design: The instructor can include detailed information about what will be required for in-class writing assignments on the syllabus, or provide this information verbally to the entire class.

This leads me to a useful link: http://www.washington.edu/doit/.  Students and OSD professionals can use principles of universal design when communicating with instructors and requesting assistance.  Incorporation of universal design makes classes more accessible for all students.  Sadly, the information for students on spectrum is somewhat lacking.

Which leads me to a useful title: Preparing to be Nerdy Where Nerdy Can be Cool: College Planning for Students on the Autism Spectrum. Lars Perner, Ph.D.  If you do an internet search on this title you’ll find a USC Marshall page with a ton of useful information.

I have a lot more to say, but this is getting pretty long.  I’m happy to provide further information if it is requested.


  • Comment by Sarita Freedman — August 1, 2010 @ 11:11 am


    Excellent article! I’d like to add that there are many things we need to consider in doing a better job of preparing students on the spectrum for college while they’re still in high school, and even before that! Check out my book, Developing College Skills in Students with Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome (Jessica Kingsley Publishing 2010).

  • Comment by Richard Moon — August 3, 2010 @ 3:49 pm


    I’ve read your comments and one of the on line references. Do you recommend that the autistic students read them directly?

  • Comment by Ari Ogoke — July 25, 2011 @ 8:01 am



    Excellent review of transition to college issues for college students who are also dealing with disability issues.

    Ari Ogoke (ariogoke@yahoo.com)
    Are you Darcy Kramer who attended Gallaudet University briefly? If so, my name is Ari and I am trying to reach you. Thanks.


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment