Over the past decade, prevalence rates of Autism Spectrum Disorder have risen dramatically (Frieden, Jaffe, Cono, Richards, & Iademarco, 2014; Lord & Bishop, 2015). As a result, an increasing number of students with ASD have been identified on college campuses (X. Wei, Wagner, Hudson, Yu, & Javitz, 2016; White, Ollendick, & Bray, 2011). Despite a tradition deeply tied to both research and practice relating to the social and emotional support and development of college students, counseling psychology has contributed little to this specific topic (Bishop, 1990; Kitzrow, 2003). This research is a qualitative examination of the experiences of university counseling center psychologists who provide counseling to college students with ASD. A semi-structured phone interview was completed with eight licensed psychologists who work in university counseling centers and have worked with at least three students with ASD. An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA; Smith, 2015) approach was used to analyze the data. Results indicate that participants had limited experiences in their training related to ASD. They identified benefits of working in the college context, such opportunities for collaboration, as well challenges related to the highly social nature of the college or university setting. Participants identified several considerations they take into account when approaching their work with clients with ASD, such as conceptualizing disability through a cultural diversity lens rather than a deficit-based model, and adapting their treatment modality to emphasize a strengths based approach that also includes some direct teaching of skills, to better suit the needs of these clients. Participants identified joys of their work such as appreciating the unique ways in which clients with ASD approach and think about situations as well as reporting challenges with clients’ rigid thinking patterns and slower rate of change. Counselors also stressed the importance of consultation with colleagues and accessing outside resources, both on- and off-campus, as ways in which they find support to remain energized to work with students with ASD. Implications for training and practice are discussed.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2017. Major: Educational Psychology. Advisor: Sherri Turner. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 91 pages.
Supporting college students with autism spectrum disorder: College counselors’ perspectives.
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