Asperger’s Syndrome/ Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder
Since the mid-2000’s, there has been a steady increase in the number of students with Asperger’s Syndrome registered at the Paul Menton Centre, consistent with the finding that Ottawa has the second-highest concentration of post-secondary students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Ontario.
The term Asperger’s Syndrome has recently been removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which lists criteria for diagnosing mental and neurodevelopmental disorders in Canada, the US, and “much of the world” (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013). Under the DSM-5, released on May 18, 2013, Asperger’s Syndrome is now subsumed under the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A developmental neurological disorder usually identified in childhood, ASD is diagnosed and described on the basis of the presence and severity level of individual symptoms from two dimensions: (1) Deficits in social communication/ social interaction, and (2) Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities. Most individuals previously diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (DSM-IV; APA, 1994) would now be classified as having “Level 1 ASD” (DSM-5; APA, 2013).
Carleton students with Level 1 ASD tend to be highly articulate and methodical in their approach to schoolwork. They exhibit excellent attention to detail, with strengths in rote memory and a systematic and effective approach to problem solving which can be an asset in studying science, math, technology, engineering and math. As adults, they typically have intense interests around a general theme (for example, mechanics) with more specific, related interests having varied since childhood (for example, trains) (Stoddart, Burke and King, 2012).
ASD symptoms and associated characteristics can interfere with postsecondary success. Observable non-verbal communication is often affected: some students speak in a relatively monotone voice with minimal eye contact, while others speak out too loudly, at inappropriate times, and with overly-intense eye contact. Students with Level 1 ASD can experience great difficulty participating appropriately in class, particularly during their transition year. They may have problems delivering class presentations and working in groups, in part because they may appear uninterested, inconsiderate, or “odd”. They tend not to be adept at “small talk” or establishing and maintaining friendships, as a function of deficits in interpreting and expressing non-verbal social cues (such as facial expressions and tone of voice), along with a tendency to neglect to consider others’ perspectives: an aspect of the reciprocal nature of communication (termed “Theory of Mind”). They may lack awareness of “unwritten” social rules (such as when not to put up their hand in class), and may interpret language in a highly concrete, literal fashion (e.g. cannot detect sarcasm or “read between the lines”). For many, a lifetime of social difficulties and associated stressors (for example, being teased as a child) has exacerbated the impact of their deficits on social skill development, and led them to avoid social situations as much as possible.
Finally, students with Level 1 ASD may exhibit relatively rigid, inflexible, rule-bound behaviour, and can experience profound anxiety in response to unfamiliar settings, unclear expectations, and (seemingly minor) change (e.g. last-minute changes to course syllabi or class location), a manifestation of the symptom dimension of restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities. Other associated difficulties observed in many students are poor time management and organization, problems with sustained attention/ concentration, hyper-sensitivity to environmental stimuli (e.g. light, noise, crowds), poor fine motor skills (seen in illegible, slow handwriting) and reduced information processing speed.
Asperger’s Syndrome (also referred to as Level One ASD), is diagnosed by a qualified health care professional, such as a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or a General Practitioner who knows the individual well. A psychoeducational assessment completed by a registered, licensed psychologist can be helpful, particularly if coexisting LD or ADHD is suspected, but is not required to receive PMC services.
If you have ASD and you believe it is impacting, or may impact, on your success at Carleton, call us for an intake appointment with a PMC coordinator. If applicable, bring a copy of any previous psychoeducational assessment reports, recent IEP reports. In addition, have your psychiatrist, psychologist, or general practitioner (who knows you well) complete and sign the PMC ASD Documentation form: www.carleton.ca/pmc/document-download.
Are my records confidential at the PMC?
The PMC has a human rights obligation to maintain confidentiality. The staff at the PMC cannot discuss the nature of a student’s disability without his/her written permission.
Adults with ASD are unique. Depending on your disability-related needs, your documentation, and the demands of your program, some of the following may be appropriate:
- Assistance developing skills to communicate with instructors and others in the campus environment
- Individualized learning support (e.g. an Academic Coach for organization and time management training )
- Regular check-ins with a PMC coordinator for problem solving
- Personal counseling and/or social skills training
- Peer mentor
- Extended time for tests and exams
- Quiet location for tests and exams
- Computer for essay format tests and exams
- Access to volunteer note-taking service
- Consent to record lectures
- Consideration for group assignments, presentations or in-class participation requirements
- Reduced course load – can be particularly important during your transition year
IMPORTANT: Transitions Support for Students with AS
We highly recommend that you contact the PMC for an intake appointment well in advance of classes, for example, during the summer before your first fall term. For a step-by-step guide on setting up accommocations with PMC for ASD, click here.
Depending on your needs, it may be appropriate to communicate with your instructors about your strengths and needs before the 1st term begins. You may be advised to meet your PMC coordinator regularly throughout each term, particularly at first.
It is a good idea to attend Carleton’s summer orientation, available to all students and with targeted “Faculty Spotlight Days.” For more information and to register for the orientation, click here.
We also recommend that you register for Get the FACTS (Fall ASD Carleton Transition to Success), a one-day orientation program for new students with ASD that takes place in late August or early September each year. For more information on Get the FACTS or to register, click here.
Asperger’s Society of Ontario: http://www.aspergers.ca/
Autism Ontario: Ottawa Chapter: http://www.autismontario.com/Ottawa
Free postsecondary transition guide from the Autistic self Advocacy Network: http://www.navigatingcollege.org/
 MacKay, Susan Alcorn. “Identifying trends and supports for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder transitioning into post-secondary: Report to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario”. Northern Ontario Assessment and Resource Centre, Cambrian College of Applied Arts and Technology. September 2009. Print.
 The DSM-5 introduces two additional diagnostic categories characterised by deficits in social communication: Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder and Unspecified Communication Disorder.
 Stoddart, Kevin P., Burke, Lillian, and King, Robert (2012). Asperger Syndrome in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide for Clinicians. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.