Executive Functioning & Embedded College Support Programs For Students With Asperger’s, ASD, ADHD, and Learning Disabilities

A Case For Integrated Case Management

Many diverse learners have been well-served by the recent proliferation of on-campus and embedded support programs.  They exist in both traditional and specialized colleges, and they provide a wide range of additional supports and services.  Some are a fee-for-service model, some require an alternate application process, and many provide students with additional academic tutoring.  Understanding the level of support provided, the domains in which these supports exist, and the depth and breadth of cross-domain case management within the collegiate environment are all important factors to consider when evaluating support options.

For many students with Aspergers, Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADHD, or Learning Disabilities challenges also exist with Executive Functioning – and those challenges are not only reserved for the classroom.

WebMD defines Executive Functioning as a set of mental skills that help to accomplish tasks and goals.  Seated primarily in the frontal lobe, these skills help students:

  • Manage time
  • Pay attention
  • Switch focus
  • Plan and organize
  • Remember details
  • Avoid saying or doing the wrong thing
  • Do things based on your experience
  • Multitask

In many ways, college is an extended and experiential assessment of a student’s capacity for applied and sustained Executive Functioning.  The self-discipline required to effectively make the transition from home and high school and active parental support in organization to full independence at college should not be underestimated, and finding opportunities to test and practice these skills before leaving home is important.  The recognition that some additional supports may be needed often leads students to seek out embedded college support programs.

Holistically considered, the Executive Functions serve as a sort of internal Case Manager for one’s life – and must be effectively applied not only in work or school, but also across the domains of independent living, social integration, personal health, and finances.  That Case Management must also include the capacity to regularly and accurately self-assess and self-evaluate, which requires a level of mature metacognition that many students have not yet developed before they head off to college.

While this recognition often leads students to consider on-campus and embedded support programs, an important consideration is that if there are identified challenges in Executive Functioning then there are also likely to be skill gaps in a student’s capacity to be their own Case Manager.

Important elements to consider are the depth, breadth, and cross-domain integration of the support program:  

  • Is the support model only for academics, or does it extend into multiple domains of a student’s experience?  
  • How integrated are the supports across those domains (academics, social, independent living, health, finance, etc)?
  • What level of student initiation and activation is required for the support model to be “triggered” into action?
  • What is the mechanism of the service delivery?
  • Where does the support take place?
  • Who provides support?
  • What is the size of caseloads within the support model?
  • How are challenges addressed?
  • Does a student need to be their own Case Manager in order to activate and align supports in multiple domains?

Recognizing that a student may benefit from additional supports and services while making the transition to college and independence is an important step.  The need for support does not mean that a student is not college capable. It simply means that they may not yet be ready for complete independence at college.  Embedded and on-campus support programs can provide a positive pathway to college success – and taking the time to drill into the supports and understand the Executive Functioning and Case Management skills required to utilize those supports is also a critical step in a student’s successful college experience.