The Ultimate Guide for Parents of Autistic College Students

By Spectrum Transition Coaching
Helping families and young adults navigate life with autism

College is an exciting and important phase of an autistic student’s life. Full of possibility, the college experience can broaden your student’s horizon in meaningful ways. It’s also their first taste of independence and adulthood.

For some autistic students, college is a time of self discovery. These students embrace the challenges of their new adventure and find new friends, new interests and new potential.

For others, college can be a time of instability. The unfamiliar environment and lack of supports can be difficult to manage, resulting in a negative or short-lived college experience.

Whichever path your autistic student ends up on, you’re in the right place.  We’ve compiled the best resources, blog posts and guides to help your family navigate the collegiate years.

Who We Are and What’s Inside

Spectrum Transition Coaching prepares autistic young adults for success in college, career, and life. With a variety of coaching packages to fit your needs and timeline, we work closely with families to help them navigate life’s transitions. From getting ready for college to building independence or finding a good fit job, Spectrum Transition Coaching supports autism families just like yours.

Recommended reading

We’ve read piles of books on autism and parenting to narrow down the most useful for your family.

Helpful blog posts

Some of our most popular blogs about college life with autism.

Conversation guides (free downloads)

Useful prompts to connect with your young adult as your relationship evolves.

Employment resources

Job boards and resources for neurodivergent college students looking for internships or full-time work.

Whether your student is thriving or struggling in college, you’re not alone.

There are so many paths after high school graduation – 2 year college, 4 year college, community college, working, volunteering or a gap year. You’ll find the right direction that fits your student’s needs, interests and personality.

Beth Felsen

Founder and Autism Life Coach at Spectrum Transition Coaching

“With the right preparation and supports, college can be an incredible time of growth and exploration as autistic students become more independent from their parents and more connected to their peers.”

– Coach Beth

Recommended Reading

While your student is diving into textbooks and course readers, you can do your homework too! I’ve found these books to be full of great information as your student enters the working world.

If your family is new to the autism community, welcome! You’ll also want to check out our reading list after a recent diagnosis here.

Important note: I find each of these books to have valuable information for parents of autistic young adults. However, they do cover some controversial topics which may not align completely with my personal views. As always, read thoughtfully and decide what is best for your unique family.

What Do You Say? How to Talk with Kids to Build Motivation, Stress Tolerance, and a Happy Home

What Do You Say? How to Talk with Kids to Build Stress Tolerance, Motivation, and a Happy Home

By William Stixrud, PhD, and Ned Johnson

The underlying premise of What do You Say? is that empathy and validation are the keys to communication. The authors explain that when parents ask: “how do I motivate my kid?” they are really asking “how do I get my kid to change” Most people are resistant to change. And parents need to realize that it is IMPOSSIBLE to force people to change. This book can help parents learn tools to help their kids feel better about change. These tools include:

– Reflective/empathetic listening
– “Parent as consultant” communication
– Parents as a non-anxious presence
– Motivational interviewing

Order the book here.

Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A field guide for introverts, the overwhelmed, and the underconnected

By Devora Zack

Traditional perceptions of networking can feel at odds with your autistic student’s personality. This book excels at explaining how you can ‘network’ in creative ways that feel true to who you are.

Building a network of people invested in your success is important to your career. But mingling at networking events is not the only way to do it.

“Let’s face it, you have to network.  Devora Zack’s innovative strategy enables the networking-averse to succeed and have a great time doing it.”
—Joe Thomas, Dean, Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University

Order the book here.

Networking for People who Hate Networking by Devora Zack
The Autism-Friendly Guide to Self-Employment by Robyn Steward

The Autism-Friendly Guide to Self-Employment

By Robyn Steward

Self-employment can be an attractive option for many autistic college grads. Autonomy over their work environment and schedules can be helpful as your student gets situated to the working world. Self-employment also comes with uncertainty and lack of predictability so your student will need a solid plan to manage those aspects, including consistent health insurance and financial resources as they get started.

Robyn Steward’s book includes anecdotes from over 100 autistic self-employed adults in a variety of industries from web development to art to retail.

For autistic college students interested in pursuing this path, I recommend this book as a starting place.

Order the book here!

Autism Working: A Seven-stage Plan to Thriving at Work

By Michelle Garnett  and Tony Attwood

If you’re looking for an interactive workbook as your student plans for life after college graduations, this is a great place to start.

Students can complete the exercises on their own or with the help of a mentor. With a 7-stage process, students are guided through reflections and exercises on these topics:

1. Stress management tools
2. Sensory management tools
3. Social tools
4. Awareness tools
5. Thinking tools
6. organizational tools
7. Creation of a personal employment plan;

Read the full book here.

Autism Working by Michelle Garnett and Tony Attwood
Autism Works by Adam Feinstein

Autism Works: A Guide to Successful Employment across the Entire Spectrum

By Adam Feinstein

By some accounts, only 16% of autistic adults have full-time employment. This is an incredible disservice to both the underemployed autistic adults and the companies that could be benefiting from their vast and varied contributions.


Adam Feinstein’s book is useful to both autistic job seekers and employers. With a variety of real world stories, you’ll learn useful advice to help your college student find and maintain full-time employment.

Get the book here.

The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome 

by Barbara Bissonnette

This is a must read for students who are looking for tactical help through the job search process. More practical than theoretical, Bissonnette includes sample emails, conversation starters and checklists to execute a successful job search as a nuerodivergent job seeker.

I recommend reading this book no later than junior year of college so your student is well prepared for the interview process during senior year.

Order the book here.

The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome by Barbara Bissonnette

What if college isn’t right for my student? Or we tried it and it didn’t go well?

Not going to college right away does not mean never going to college. Your student’s life may take twists, turns and detours as part of their journey to adulthood. It can all be a part of the process as they progress from child to adult.

If your student isn’t going to college now

The time after high school can be a great time to work on skill development so that your student can be successful in college down the road. Use this time to build life skills by:

– Learning to drive. This is a key aspect of independence and there are some incredible resources to help your student gain confidence and master this skill. This guide from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is a great place to start. 

– Managing courses independently. Community college can be a great first step. You student doesn’t need to be enrolled full time to take a class at a community college. Select a course or two that aligns with their interests. If your student dreads math, this is not a time for calculus. Instead, select ceramics, nutrition, photography or computer science to fit their interests.

– Volunteering: Spending time with a volunteering organization is a great way for your student to gain real world experience, build references for future work and explore a passion. Learn more here. 

Perhaps the most important consideration in this phase is your own emotional reaction as a parent. When your friends’ kids are going off to colleges and universities, it is tempting to feel like you came up short. Don’t fall into that trap. This is not a reflection on you as a parent. Our children’s lives develop in ways that we can not predit nor control. The best thing you can do is share your student’s plans with confidence to avoid introducing any shame into this life transition.

If your student’s time at college isn’t going well

One of the hardest parts of being a parent is knowing when to let your child fail and when to swoop in and help. 

From my years of coaching autistic young adults, I’ve learned that it is very hard for neurodivergent young adults to ‘push through’ tough times. If you are hearing that your child is spending all day in their room, can’t get out of bed, or has fallen significantly behind in all of their classes, that is a warning sign they may need a break.

First, make sure your student is in a safe place. That may mean you get in the car to see them on campus or they come home for a while. 

Second, learn about your options. Many colleges now offer medical leave for mental health challenges which may give your student some breathing room. Explore your options beyond push through or drop out. 

Third, make a plan for the next semester. Work with your student to make a plan whether that is taking time off, returning with more supports in place or another path. If you are struggling to work through this together, this can be a great time for a parent consultation or a targeted coaching package.


Conversation Guides

Grab one of our free downloads below to help you communicate with your college student. As children mature and gain independence, our parental role shifts as well. Find your footing in this new phase with frequent, open communication.

Free download: Navigating the Workplace with Autism

STC Workplace Conversation Guide

Free download: Is my student ready for coaching?

Is my student ready for coaching?

Free download: SMART Goal Guide

STC SMART Goal Guide

Top blog posts for parents of autistic college students

Parenting college students is a balancing act. We want to give our students more independence, especially if they are living away from home. But we also want them to know that we are always in their corner if they need us. Here’s our top blogs about the college years. Subscribe to the blog here.
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Employment Preparation Timeline

For students who are thriving in college, it’s never too early to start thinking about what comes after graduation. Whether that is grad school, employment or another path, encourage your student to make connections so they have opportunities to choose from after senior year.

For autistic college students looking at full-time employment, this roadmap can help you prioritize what to focus on each year.

STC Employment Preparation Timeline

Employment Resources

Autistic students face significant decisions about the next steps of their life. These decisions are rightfully daunting. It feels like they are major commitments and the wrong move might harm your autistic student. There is no magic ball to help you decide, but you can take comfort that few decisions are permanent and you can always course correct if your student needs a new direction. Life after high school can take many paths to building a fulfilling and purposeful life. 
College Autism Network
With a goal to improve employment of neurodivergent individuals, Neurodiversity Hub is a great place to start looking for a job or programs to support neurodivergent job seekers. 



The Neurodiversity @ Work Rountable is my favorite initiative of Disability: IN. 

With job postings and neurdivergent hiring programs, you can find jobs at major companies like Ford, EY, Deloitte and Google as well as neurdovergent-focused companies like Blue Star Recyclers, Good Foot Delivery and Moji Coffee. 

JAN logo
JAN is an excellent resource to learn more about available accommodations that your employer needs to support in order to allow you to be successful in your role as part of the Americans with Disabilites Act.

For college students exploring potential career paths, My Next Move has a variety of information and assessments to help you discover fulfilling career paths. 

About Spectrum Transition Coaching



Helping families of autistic young adults navigate college, career, and life transitions

“Beth is wonderful. She really helped push some of the more difficult conversations between me and my son as he gets ready to leave the nest. Beth met both of us where we were, and are, in this process, and did so in the kindest and least judgmental way. She sees autism as a fact, not a disability, and her practical advice and encouragement will go far. Highly recommend!”

Cece, parent of autistic young adult

Featured Practitioners

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  • Michelle McAnaney: College admissions consultant and founder of the The College Spy

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