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College Programs to Support Students with Learning Differences: ASD Affinity Program

In my last blog entry, we looked at Muskingum University’s PLUS Program, one of the two oldest programs supporting students with learning differences in Ohio and easily the largest. Their resources are substantial and their approach is time tested and effective. This week, we will turn our attention to a unique and specialized program solely serving the needs of college students on the autism spectrum (ASD).

As the number of children diagnosed with ASD increases, the need is greater than ever to provide for avenues of success into adulthood. Higher education can be an appropriate step for college age students with ASD who are academically able to succeed but may require social and living support to navigate the traditional college residential campus.

Nationally, there are very few college programs specializing in providing learning support services to students with ASD. Defiance College’s “ASD Affinity Program” was modeled after a similar program at Marshall University in West Virginia. The ASD Affinity program was launched in 2014 and builds on Defiance’s success with its Hench Autism Studies Program, which began in 2007. While ASD Affinity Program is small, they celebrated the graduation of their first 4 students last spring.

Students accepted into the program receive campus housing with live-in staff support and supervision by trained individuals, peer mentoring, course tutoring by trained tutors, and co-curricular opportunities. Students work with faculty advisors within their area of study and schedule regular meetings with trained staff members. ASD Affinity Program students have a private room but share an open area with another student (suite-style).

The ASD Affinity Program is directed by Dr. Clarissa Barnes, the director of Defiance’s Hench Autism Studies Program and an assistant professor of special education at Defiance College.

ASD Affinity Program Services cost $6,000 per semester in addition to regular tuition, room, and board. However, a special financial aid fund has been established to provide financial assistance toward the separate ASD Affinity Program Support Fee on the basis of demonstrated financial need. Additionally, students may be eligible for aid from “Autism Speaks.”

ASD Affinity program applicants typically meet the following requirements:

  • Are 18-24 at initial enrollment
  • Have a documented diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (DSM-5); autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) (DSM-IV-TR) (as indicated by a psychological evaluation)
  • Have an average intellectual ability (e.g., intelligence quotient > 80 as determined by intelligence testing)
  • Meet the Defiance College academic admissions requirements: 2.25 GPA and 18 ACT
    *Please note: Consideration for admission to the ASD Affinity Program also requires completion of the separate Defiance College Application for Undergraduate Admission.
  • Are independent with self-care and hygiene skills (e.g., bathing, oral hygiene, shaving)
  • Are independent with all medication administration
  • Are able to stay overnight independently (that is, at least one night alone) and complete all necessary daily living skills
  • Have no documented incidents of aggressive behavior toward others or self-harm within the last 5 years

Application details are available online.

The ASD Affinity Program is the only college learning support program in Ohio focusing solely on students with ASD. While still small and in its early years of development, it has been modeled after the recognized and successful program housed in Marshall University’s Autism Training Center.

Next week we will look at the last of our programs supporting college students with learning differences. This one is located at a small college in the northern part of our state and enjoys an impressive record of success. You will want to join us for that one!

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at or check out what we can do for you here: