Students on the Autism Spectrum

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that typically appears during the first three years of life.  It is a spectrum disorder with a range in severity of symptoms, usually involving social interaction deficits, communication deficits, and/or delayed language.  "Asperger’s Syndrome" has traditionally been referred to as “high-functioning autism” since there is usually average to above average intelligence and no history of language delays.

  • Impairment in social interaction, difficulty forming relationships with peers
  • Failure to seek out others for interactions, enjoyment or achievements
  • Difficulty with social/emotional reciprocity (cannot read social cues, facial expressions, body language, tone of voice)
  • Restricted, repetitive & stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, & activities
  • There is no clinically significant general delay in language
  • There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction)
  • Significant preoccupation with specialized area
  • Social impairments – group work, socialization, internships, interviews, extra-curricular activities, living in the dorms, interactions with professors, etc.
  • Perseverative/idiosyncratic interests – can interfere with studying and have a negative impact on socialization
  • Need for routine – difficulty coping with unforeseen changes
  • Sensory sensitivities – difficult to be in classroom/dorms; irritability/frustration, sensitivity to air/lighting in large lecture halls
  • Comorbidities – medical & psychological comorbidities can also complicate adjustment in college  (OCD, Anxiety, Depression)
  • Meet with Learning Support Services personnel if you know that a student on the Autism Spectrum will be in your class.
  • Establish boundaries before the semester begins or as soon as the semester begins.  Limit the number of questions or comments to 3 per class period and provide guidelines about contacting you with additional questions.
  • Notify Learning Support Services office if student begins missing class/seems highly agitated.
  • Provide clear, detailed information in your syllabus.
  • Provide written instructions for any changes – don’t rely on oral communication as the only means of communication with the student.
  • Praise appropriate behavior, especially with respect to peers.
  • Remember that you set the tone in the classroom.  Other students will follow your lead on the best way to interact with the student.
  • Avoid loud, shocking noises in class in demonstrations or displays.
  • If a student becomes upset, allow them to leave the room.  Do not try to comfort them by hugging, patting, or otherwise touching them.
  • If group work is part of the course requirement and the student is struggling, be creative and work with Learning Support Services to develop an alternative, individual assignment that measures the same learning outcome.
  • Provide copies of your PowerPoints before class so that the student can follow along.
  • Discuss any presentation requirements with Learning Support Services.  Often presentations can be modified by having the student present via video conference, individually, or by having the student hand in a paper as an alternative method of assessment.
  • Always keep a sense of humor. Students on the Autism Spectrum, if given the chance, are likely to become some of your favorite students!

Contact Information

Office of Learning Support Services:
Villanova University
Learning Commons in Falvey
Suite 212
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085
Phone: 610.519.5176
Fax: 610.519.8015

Hours of Operation:
Summer hours: Monday through Thursday 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Fridays 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

Meet Our Staff

Directions to campus and Campus Map (PDF)