Students with autism have similar study progress in their first year as their fellow students

PhD research by Theo Bakker into students with autism at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam shows that bachelor students with autism have similar study progress in their first year as their fellow students after correction for background characteristics.

06/15/2020 | 1:29 PM

A remarkable outcome of this longitudinal study among 96 bachelor students with autism and 25,001 bachelor students without autism is that students with autism appear to be very similar in their first-year success to their peers when correcting for background characteristics (gender, age, highest pre-education, high school math grade).

Attention to background differences
Autistic individuals increasingly enroll in colleges and universities, but we know little about their study progress during their education. Many autistic students (AS) do not finish their degrees. Long-term studies on study progression over time of AS in comparison to their peers are rare or do not take into account the background differences between these two groups. This has happened in the study of Bakker, Krabbendam, Bhulai and Begeer.

Bakker aimed to study first-year outcomes of autistic and neurotypical bachelor students at VU Amsterdam. He wanted to examine differences in study progression and retention, and, if there were any, to understand when and why they occur within that first year.

No difference in the first year
Over the first bachelor year, the grade average of AS is mostly similar to students with no neurodevelopmental or health conditions. The number of examination attempts, failed examinations, and no shows of AS showed no differences. The accumulation of credits was generally similar during the first year, except for period 3, and there was no difference in dropout rates after the first year.

AS obtain a lower number of credits in their first bachelor year, but not to the extent that Bakker has expected so far based on studies. In addition, the average figures show that students with autism experience no difficulties due to the academic level of education.

Use insights
Institutions in higher education can use these insights to inform AS on study progression and retention. Furthermore, student counselors can use these findings to encourage AS to seek counseling as soon as possible when they arrive at university, ideally before study issues arise.

The study is published in Open Acces thanks to a subsidy from VU Amsterdam and the Dutch Association for Autism: Bakker, T.C., Krabbendam, L., Bhulai, S., & Begeer, S. (2020). First-Year Progression and Retention of Autistic Students in Higher Education: A Propensity Score-Weighted Population Study,Autism in Adulthood.