Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Donna Talbot

Second Advisor

Dr. Wanda Hadley

Third Advisor

Dr. Sarah Cox


autism, transition, liberal arts, disability, ASD, high school


Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are transitioning into colleges and universities at a growing rate. All types of post-secondary institutions are seeing this influx, yet some are ill prepared to assist students with ASD, especially within the transition process. There is a gap in the research focusing on students with ASD within liberal art colleges. The purpose of this study is to understand the lived experience of students with ASD as they transition from high school to a small liberal arts college.

My research uses a phenomenological approach in order to develop descriptive themes. I interviewed seven students who are diagnosed with ASD, registered with disability services, and attending a private, liberal arts college. Participants attended four small, private liberal art colleges in the Midwest. The interviews provided rich data discussing the student’s lived experience.

My findings revealed three themes as to how students with ASD transition from high school to a small liberal arts college: (1) ASD diagnosis and its impact on self-identity; (2) the impact of college structures and resources on transition to college; and (3) family involvement and support. Students were affected by timing of their ASD diagnosis. Students associated their social limitations with their ASD diagnosis. Students were concerned to share their ASD diagnosis with others for fear of stigma. There were mixed reactions on the benefits of disability services and obligatory events, like orientation and freshmen kick-off. Students felt empowered to choose how they participated in student engagement and enjoyed clubs and organizations. Students saw their professors as a consistent source of positive interaction.

Recommendations for further research include: (a) explore the dynamic relationships between students with ASD and professors; (b) the experiences of students with ASD in public universities, community colleges, and small liberal arts colleges; (c) the impact of students with ASD in on-campus housing; and (d) how unique accommodations, such as study tables and peer mentoring, impact students with ASD.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access