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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

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Common Characteristics

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a life-long neurological disorder that affects the way a person communicates and relates to the people and world around them. ASD can affect behaviour, social interactions, and communication. ASD is a spectrum disorder, which means that while all people with ASD will experience certain difficulties. The degree to which each person on the spectrum experiences their challenges differs, as do their strengths.ASD crosses all cultural, ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic boundaries.

Regardless of the severity of the disorder, people on the spectrum might at times have difficulty verbalizing their thoughts, managing their anxiety, dealing with change, or participating in group activities.

According to the National Epidemiological Database for the Study of Autism in Canada (NEDSAC), ASD is one of the most common developmental disabilities, in Canada, 1 in 94 children is diagnosed with ASD. According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, approximately 1% of the Canadian population is affected by ASD, which means there are approximately 100,000 Ontarians on the autism spectrum.

Common Concerns and Struggles

Challenges for students with ASD are often more pronounced because of the differences between high school and post-secondary academically, administratively, and socially.  In addition, students with ASD have often found ways of coping in high school and have difficulty generalizing and changing those coping skills to fit the post-secondary environment.

Interpreting Assignment Expectations:  Sometimes, what is interesting or important to individuals with ASD is different from what is interesting or important to others.  As a result, students with ASD may have difficulty interpreting assignment expectations. Students might struggle to determine what a professor or instructor expects regarding topic selection, how much detail to include for specific sections, and which information is more important.

Behavioral and communication challenges: There are many ‘unwritten rules’ of classroom conduct and the academic/social environment. Sometimes students with ASD struggle to know what constitutes appropriate behaviour.   Examples of errors in classroom conduct include asking too many questions, answering rhetorical questions (questions that are not meant to be answered), answering with too much detail, going ‘off-topic’ and speaking too much or too little in tutorials.

Group work can also be a challenge. Group work is challenging in and of itself.  What can be amplified as a challenge for some students with ASD includes: reading the social dynamics, struggling with group processes such as turn-taking, dividing tasks, integrating individual work into the group whole.   Labs are complex and dynamic settings that require processing instructions relating to unfamiliar tasks, transitioning between stations, performing fine motor tasks, and coordinating with other students – often within tight time constraints. This can be challenging for students with ASD because of social, communication, sensory and information-processing differences.

Post-secondary students with ASD often have difficulty reaching out by emailing and/or speaking with professors, instructors, administrative staff or student services.  This challenge may present itself as a difficulty reaching out in the first place or as outreaches that are ineffectual.  In particular, identifying a need for help and explaining what help is required may be challenging and therefore limits a student’s ability to get their needs met in a timely way.

Social Challenges: Students with ASD frequently enter post-secondary with less experience related to friendships and romantic relationships and have had fewer opportunities for social engagement.  Students with ASD often have unique and intense interests that are different from their peers. In addition, the communication style of these students is often different.  As a result, interacting with other students can be challenging since the post-secondary environment includes both explicit and “unwritten rules” related to social engagement and interactions (i.e., dating, maintaining romantic relationships, friendships).  

Decision-Making Challenges:   Many students with ASD have difficulty making decision in relation to their program choice, course load, whether to continue taking or to drop a course (in cases when grades are low), whether to ask for help, what to ask for and when to ask.For students with ASD imagining possible outcomes difficulties with executive functioning, general difficulties with interpersonal communication, anxiety, and understanding time sensitivity can impact their decision making abilities.

Documentation Requirements

All students with disabilities should register with Accessibility Services in order to arrange academic accommodations for their courses.  Accommodations are meant to be matched to specific functional limitations of a student’s disability in order to provide students with an equal opportunity to participate in the coursework.   Accommodations that may be available for students with ASD may include:

  • Learning Strategist/Academic Coach: support in understanding course expectations, managing group work, time management
  • Note-taking
  • Exam accommodations (extra time, private room, etc.)
  • Assistive technology

Documentation Requirements

  • Visit our Colleges or Universities section, AND contact your post-secondary school’s Accessibility Office to learn what documentation is required at your school. Requirements can vary widely from school to school, and it is important to learn what specific documentation is required, especially before arranging or paying for an assessment or expecting reimbursement. 
  •  For students with Autism Spectrum Disorder to obtain the full range of accommodations and supports normally requires recent (within 3-5 years) and extensive (a full psychological assessment) documentation.
  • Accommodations and supports might be provisionally put in place if the student has less than the extensive documentation noted above. It is imperative for students to check with the institution they plan to attend to see what they require to access supports. 
  • For example, at some post-secondary institutions, a medical form or letter from a qualified practitioner (physician, psychologist, specialist, etc.) is sufficient documentation. At other institutions, a more comprehensive psycho-educational assessment conducted by a psychologist is required.  Psycho-educational assessments can cost $2,000-4,000, however funding may be available through OSAP (and the Bursary for Students with Disabilities) or another source.  For institutions that do require a psycho-educational assessment, disability counselors at the Office for Students with Disabilities can assist in making a referral and investigate financial aid options.
  • Documentation should outline the functional limitations that are caused by ASD and how they apply to an academic setting.  The documentation may also make recommendations around academic accommodations to address those limitations which will be further discussed once the student registers with the appropriate student service.  Accommodations which are granted at the post secondary level do not change essential program requirements and therefore might look different than accommodations previously used and/or recommended on a new report. 

Possible Post-Secondary Support

  • Orientation programs:   Orientation programs provide opportunities for students with ASD to:
    • Meet new people
    • Meet support staff and learn about the roles and how help is structured in a post-secondary environment
    • Learn where services are and how things work [Available at most schools]
    • Students with ASD might want to connect with their DSO to see how to best navigate events which initially might feel overwhelming
  • Transition programs:  In addition to the resources and benefits of orientation programs, transition programs help students:
    • Prepare for the differences between high school and post-secondary school,
    • Anticipate and address potential problems, and
    • Provide an avenue for students to connect with school supports [Available at most schools]
  • ASD-specific support groups:   ASD specific support groups provides a space for students with similar interests, concerns, and communication styles to connect.  [contact your school to see what is available]
  • Peer mentoring:  Mentorship programs help introduce students to the school community and navigate the services offered within the school.  Mentors can help familiarize students with new environments and potentially answer questions. [Available at most schools]
  • Peer tutoring/academic support:  Peer tutoring and academic support services can provide:
    • Support for students in completing assignments or essays 
    • Support for students who need help with reviewing or general support with coursework. [Available at most schools]
  • Academic advising:  Academic advisors can assist students in choosing courses and planning their academic paths.  [Available at most schools]

Community Support Services


Autism Ontario helps people on the autism spectrum and their families by advocating on their behalf, providing services & programs, and raising awareness. Autism Ontario represents thousands of families across the province through 25 Chapters that are under the leadership of committed and skilled volunteers who provide expertise and guidance to the organization and their communities. To find your local Chapter, please visit www.autismontario.com






Resource Guide Adult ASD Surrey Place 2014


Autism Ontario Ottawa Chapter
1140 Morrison Drive, Ottawa, ON K2H 8S9 613-230-6305 x22


WAVE (Work and Volunteer Experience for Adults with Autism) Ottawa


Autism Ontario Sudbury & District
827 Barrydowne Rd
Sudbury, ON, P3A 4S4

Northern Region Autism Intervention Program
Child Care Resources
662 Falconbridge Rd.
Sudbury, ON, P3A 4S4
(705) 525-0055

North Bay

Autism Ontario North Bay and Area
269 Main Street West, Suite 304
North Bay, ON, P1B 2T8


Geneva Centre for Autism
112 Merton Street
Toronto, ON, M4S 2Z8

Kerry’s Place Autism Services
34 Berczy Street
Aurora, ON, L4G 1W9
(905) 841-6611

Autism Partnership Toronto (in conjunction with “A Circle of Support)
100 York Blvd, Suite 115
Richmond Hill, ON, L4B 1J8
(905) 762-9909

Reach Toronto
2238 Dundas Street West, Suite 206
Toronto, ON, M6R 3A9
(416) 929-1670

Autism Speaks Canada
2450 Victoria Park Ave, Unit 120
Toronto, ON, M2J 4A2

Autism Ontario Toronto
1032 Pape Avenue
P.0. Box 60007
Toronto, ON, M4K 3Z3
1 (866) 925- 9969


Autism Ontario West Nipissing
1-866-626-9100 Ext 3561


Autism Services Waterloo Region
The Family Centre for Autism
65 Hanson Ave
Kitchener, ON, N2C 2H6
Autism Ontario Waterloo Region
P.O. Box 42064
Waterloo, ON
N2L 6K5

University of Waterloo Autism Support Group

Waterloo Wellington Autism Services
591 Guildwood Place
Waterloo, ON, N2K 3M3

Thunder Bay

Autism Ontario Thunder Bay & District
425 Edward Street North
Northwood Park Plaza
Thunder Bay, ON, P7C 4P7


Autism Ontario Durham Region
P.O. Box 40008
Whitby, ON, L1R 0G2

Kerry’s Place
1077 Boundary Rd, Unit 212
Oshawa, ON, L1J 8P8


Autism Ontario London
Salvation Army building
1340 Dundas Street, East
London ON N5W 3B6


Autism Ontario Peterborough
Box 443 Stn Main
Peterborough, ON, K9J 6Z3


Autism Ontario Simcoe County
11 Ferris Lane Suite 300
Barrie, ON, L4M 5N6


Autism Ontario Niagara Region
36 Page Street, Suite 401
St. Catherines, ON, L2R 4A7


Autism Ontario Kingston
361 Montreal Street
Kingston, ON, K7K 3H4


Autism Ontario Halton Chapter
2080 Appleby Line
PO Box 75034, Millcroft Post Office
Burlington, ON, L7L 6Y2


Autism Ontario Hamilton
533 Main Street East
Hamilton, ON, L8M 1H9


Autism Ontario Wellington Region
84 Upton Crescent
Guelph, ON
N1E 6P5


Autism Services Inc of Windsor and Essex Country
Autism Services Incorporated
3600 Curry Avenue
Windsor, Ontario N9E 2T6


These resources have been curated by various different college and university accessibility offices. They are specifically for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. All links open in a separate window. 

Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)

College Readiness Assessment Tool (PDF)

Post-Secondary Lanuage Dictionary (PDF)

Transition Readiness Student Checklist (PDF)