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UTHSC News: Center on Developmental Disabilities Begins Partnership to Support Autistic College Students


For many people, going to college is an exciting time full of new experiences, a fresh sense of independence, and unique opportunities to connect and learn with people from other backgrounds. For these and other reasons, making the transition to college and continuing to graduation can be challenging for autistic students.

Without proper support services, people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can struggle due to the social and academic challenges of higher education. They can experience communication difficulties, sensory sensitivities, and executive functioning challenges affecting their organization, time management, social interactions, and planning abilities.

Graduate students in the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Center on Developmental Disabilities (CDD) can now learn about supporting autistic college students through a new partnership with STARS, Inc., a nonprofit organization housed at Christian Brothers University (CBU) that helps degree-seeking, autistic college students be successful.

“I think many people don’t understand what autism is and the barriers it creates in higher education and transitioning to a career after graduation. There are a lot of challenges that people who are neurotypical don’t understand because executive functioning comes naturally to them,” said Kim Jameson, founder and executive director of STARS.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our center to extend the lifespan perspective to our work, supporting young autistic adults as they pursue autonomy and inclusion within higher education and the workplace,” said Bruce Keisling, PhD, executive director of the CDD and professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics.

STARS, which stands for Students Tackling Austism-Related Syndromes, has several programs aimed at assisting autistic college students as they transition from high school to college and from college to careers and independent living. By working with STARS, Dr. Keisling said the faculty, staff, and students at the CDD will broaden their understanding of what life can look like for an autistic person beyond the pediatric years.

Read more at our UTHSC news site.