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Autistic College Students and College Counseling

In this study, I am leading a team of researchers examining an existing data set from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH). In this study, we examined the psychometric properties of a commonly used mental health screener in college counseling centers called the Counseling Center Assessment of Psychological Symptoms (CCAPS-62). This tool has extensive research supporting it's validity and reliability with the general college population, but had yet to be examined for autistic college students. Working collaboratively with colleagues at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, we established initial evidence of validity and reliability of the CCAPS-62 for the autistic population. We also established measurement invariance; that is that the instrument works the same for students with autism and students without.



A screenshot of the first page of the CCAPS 2019 Manual. Center for collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.


From there, we examined scores on the eight domains on the CCAPS-62 (Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Academic Distress, Eating Concerns, Family Distress, Frustration/Anger, and Substance Use) for autistic college students, college students with other disabilities, and college students with no disabilities. We found that autistic college students (including those with co-occurring disabilities) had higher scores in Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Family Distress, Frustration/Anger, and Social Anxiety than students with no disabilities. Those with no disabilities and autistic students had similar scores in academic distress and eating concerns. Autistic students had lower scores in substance use. Compared to students with other disabilities, the autism and co-occurring disability group had the highest scores on all scales except for Academic Distress and Substance Use.

Substance Use was lower for autistic and autism with co-occurring disabilities groups.

Autism with co-occurring disabilities and the cognitive disability group had similar Academic Distress scores. The scores in the autism only group were consistently lower as compared to autism and co-occurring disability group except on the Frustration/Anger and Social Anxiety scales where they were comparable.


We took these results to our Advisory Board composed of autistic college students and asked for their reactions, opinions, and recommendations for college counseling centers. The information from this study, including student recommendations is currently being written and will be submitted to publication in the spring of 2022.




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