Advice for Students with PDD and Success in College

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Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Each student thinking of attending college has much to do to prepare for four or more years of academic and personal success. Students with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), a neurological disorder categorized under the term ‘autism spectrum disorders,’ must go beyond the typical preparations to succeed on a college campus. PDD affects spoken language, nonverbal communication, social interactions, and behavior. These impairments can make navigating and learning in the college environment difficult without the necessary preparations and the correct social and academic supports.

PDD and Success in College

Students with PDD thinking about going to college should consider the quality of a school’s structured academic program, disability support services, attitude and willingness to provide accommodations, and counseling center. Attending college for students with any type of disability differs greatly from going to high school. Unlike in high school, students with disabilities in college must advocate for themselves, provide documentation of disabilities, and follow up with professors regarding academic accommodations. . On most campuses, the student will receive a letter acknowledging that he has a disability and his need for accommodations. This letter may be sent by staff, or the student may be required to hand deliver it to establish rapport with a professor. In the latter case, a student with PDD will likely need coaching and practice to do this.

While knowledge of supports needed for PDD may help, disability support staff should show interest in getting to know the student and his individual needs. Many students with an autism spectrum disorder benefit from tutors, help with organization, and personal supports. Some schools offer these services, but many do not. Parents and advisors may have to collaborate to arrange this type of assistance.

Below are specific academic accommodations related to students with PDD and success in college.

  • Priority seating should be arranged with the professor. Sitting close to the front, or in the center of the row, can make it easier concentrate on a lecture. Some students prefer to sit in an aisle seat near the front to spread out materials and to avoid being bumped.
  • Students should ask for permission to record lectures, or ask for notes from a scribe.
  • Snacks, water bottles, and small squeezable objects should be brought to class to maintain focus and reduce fidgeting.
  • Since students may take longer to process information and organize responses, additional time should be requested for responding to questions in class, in-class assignments, and tests.
  • Students with oral communication difficulties should receive accommodations for working with peers in small groups, talking in front of the class, or participating in other activities. Students should talk professors early in the semester about appropriate accommodations.
  • Calendars, checklists, and other visual strategies should be developed with the student.
  • To accommodate difficulties in screening and processing sensory information, students with PDD should study and take tests in a less distracting environment.
  • Students should have priority class registration and enroll in courses that draw on factual memory and visual perceptual skills, which students with PDD typically possess. Courses that require abstract or social reasoning, flexible problem solving, or extensive writing are more challenging and may require additional time and supports.
  • Communication and psychology courses should be taken to improve social skills. Auditing a course may be necessary for extra time to master the material.
  • A reduced course load can give students with PDD additional time for reading, thinking about problems and completing work. Fewer courses will lessen stress and prevent a student from feeling overwhelmed.

Careful planning and preparation are necessary for students with PDD and success in college. Students should learn and practice self-advocacy skills while in high school and at home in a supportive environment. These skills will make the transition to college easier.


Colorado State University.

Williams, Gladys, and Palmer, Ann. “Preparing for College: Tips for Students with HFA/Asperger’s Syndrome.”