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Enhancing Supports for Autistic Post-Secondary Students at the University of Calgary

Principal Investigator:
  • Carly McMorris, University of Calgary
  • Kids Brain Health Network

Project Overview

Autistic individuals are disproportionately under-represented in post-secondary institutions, with only 35% of students with autism pursuing post-secondary education. Of those individuals with autism who do enter post-secondary environments, only 39% are likely to graduate. A lack of available autism specific supports has been suggested to interfere with successful post-secondary education. The services that are available to autistic students largely support a student’s academic success; however, it is nonacademic supports that autistic post-secondary students require the most. Peer mentorship programs are emerging as a promising approach for providing individualized, effective, one-to-one non-academic support for autistic and non-autistic post-secondary students that help to promote wellbeing and success at university. In partnership with our established collaborations and advisory team, the current project aims to meet the diverse needs of post-secondary autistic students at the University of Calgary (UCalgary) by 1) Adapting and implementing a peer mentorship program based on evidence-informed programs (The University of Calgary Autism Support Program – UCASP); 2) Conduct an evaluation to determine its preliminary effectiveness and limitations at UCalgary; and 3) To ensure sustainability, identify barriers and facilitators for successful future implementation of UCASP at UCalgary. Forty UCalgary autistic students (either formally diagnosed or who self-identify) will be recruited to participate in UCASP. UCASP will involve an individually tailored multidimensional program, consisting of 1) one-to-one meetings with a peer mentor; 2) group-based activities to promote a peer network; and 3) workshops focused on promoting student-identified needs. Students enrolled in the program will complete a variety of standardized measures (e.g., SRS-2, CESI, SACQ, BASC-3) to determine the success of UCASP. We anticipate that students will be more satisfied and more successful in their post-secondary experience. There is considerable need to enhance the care and support provided to post-secondary students with autism in Canada. This project will address this need by implementing and evaluating an evidence-informed peer support program, and subsequent integration of this program into the existing support framework to ensure sustainability.