A Look at Non-academic Accommodations for Students who Experience Autism and Live in the Residence Hall: A Research Study


Wednesday, November 1


2:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.


Earlee Kerekes-Mishra and Martha Smith


With the increased rate of college students experiencing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) coupled with the first year live-on requirement at OSU, both University Housing and Dining Services UHDS) and Disability Access Services (DAS) have seen increasing requests from students for an exemption or an accommodation related to living on campus for disability related reasons. OSU views accommodations through the lens of inclusion. We strive to find unique and creative ways to ensure an inclusive environment for all students.

We realize that it is not uncommon for any student transitioning into a higher education living situation to experience a struggle at some point in their transition, with the struggles typically lessening as the student becomes more accustomed to and comfortable in the living environment. For students experiencing ASD the struggles of living in a shared on-campus living environment often do not dissipate over time. For many students that experience ASD a quiet, low-stimulus environment (less noise, less interruptions, more direct control of the living space, etc.) are not just preferences, but rather something that is required in order to function appropriately. In group living environments a quiet low-stimulus environment is not always a simple task, therefore an exemption from living on-campus or an on-campus accommodation is requested. In order for OSU to provide a more inclusive living experience first-hand knowledge from students experiencing ASD on the OSU campus needs to be obtained.

In Fall 2013, Oregon State University (OSU) required that all full-time, first year- students who enroll at OSU within one year of high school graduation regardless of class standing must live on campus in an OSU-owned and operated residence hall for a full academic year. However, since the implementation of the First Year Experience Live-on Requirement, DAS has noticed a growing number of their registered students requesting an exemption to the on-campus living requirement. DAS has found that students who fall on the autistic spectrum are especially challenged by OSU’s residence halls environment. Although current literature discusses the academic, social benefits and challenges of living on-campus for traditional students, there is a lack of literature and narrative that specifically focus on students who are identified with Autistic Spectrum Disorder living in on-campus residence halls.

This qualitative research project anticipates creating current literature that explores the benefits and challenges of living on-campus in a residence hall from the lived experiences and voices of students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Based on the narratives of benefits and challenges that students have faced, the data collected from this research study will help the institution better support students experiencing Autism Spectrum Disorder successfully transition into residential life. Additionally, this research study will identify specific non-academic needs and supports to assist students on the Autism Spectrum to have a positive on campus living experience.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Participants will be able to identify areas of opportunity on their own campus for non-academic accommodations in housing accommodations for students that experience autism.
  2. Participants will be able to better understand struggles students that experience autism experience while living in on-campus housing from a first-hand account.
  3. Participants will have the opportunity to critically analyze areas of opportunity for research on their campus that disability services providers can contribute towards.

Presenter Bio(s)

Earlee Kerekes-Mishra, M.A.
Earlee Kerekes-Mishra has worked with students with disabilities in higher education for 8 years and has a passion for focusing on students that experience Autism Spectrum Disorder, including pursuing a certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorder studies through Western Oregon University. Earlee has an MA in Organizational Leadership. She is currently the Manager of Intake, Retention and Transition Services at OSU.

Martha Smith, M.A.
Martha R. Smith has worked with individuals with disabilities for over 25 years, including as the disability director at three different institutions of higher education (currently at OSU). She has been a coordinator of a US department of Education Grant regarding access for students with disabilities in clinical settings. She has worked as the Employee Civil Rights and Title VII officer for the Oregon Department of Transportation.