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The 3 Levels of Supports for Neurodivergent Students

As you start considering college for your neurodivergent teen, it's important to know what the options are. Depending on how much support and what level of accommodations your child needs, you may want to look at different colleges and different programs.

Generally speaking there are three different levels of support for neurodivergent students with learning differences. The levels are sometimes referred to by different names, but the underlying structure remains the same.

Understanding these levels will help you make an informed decision and provide the best opportunities for your child's academic and personal growth.

Level 1: Basic Services

Mainstream inclusive programs are the most common option for neurodivergent students entering college and are available at all colleges as it is required by law. These programs aim to create an inclusive learning environment within the existing college framework and can be thought of as accommodations rather than specialized services. Access to accommodations, such as extended testing time, note-taking assistance, or access to assistive technology, is offered through the schools disability office.


  • Independence: Neurodivergent students in mainstream inclusive programs must navigate the college experience independently, seeking out resources and support when needed.

  • Self-advocacy: Students must proactively register with the school’s disability office and often communicate directly with professors in order to receive accommodations.

Level 2: Coordinated Services/Supported College Programs

Supported college programs provide a higher level of specialized support for neurodivergent students and is available at many colleges and universities, including public institutions. These programs are specifically designed to meet the unique needs of individuals with neurodiverse conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Often they offer structured support with clear guidelines and support to help students manage their academic and personal responsibilities. They often also offer assistance with advocacy, individualized coaching to develop executive function skills, time management, organization and study skills, social coaching or peer mentorship.


  • Program availability: Supported college programs may have limited availability and specific admission requirements, so early research and application preparation are crucial.

  • Financial considerations: Some supported programs require additional fees, which should be factored into your financial planning.

Level 3: Specialized College Programs/Comprehensive Programs

Specialized college programs are intensive programs designed explicitly for neurodivergent students with learning differences. These programs offer a comprehensive range of support services, academic instruction, and social-emotional development to address the unique needs of participants. Specialized college programs often operate independently or as part of a college's disability services department.

Key Features:

  • Comprehensive support: Specialized programs provide extensive academic support, including specialized instruction, small class sizes, and individualized professional tutoring.

  • Therapeutic services: Many specialized programs offer access to counseling, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and other therapeutic services to support students' overall well-being.

  • Transition planning: These programs typically focus on preparing neurodivergent students for post-college life, including career exploration, internship opportunities, and independent living skills development.


  • Admission process: Specialized programs often have a rigorous application process, including interviews, evaluations, and submission of educational documentation.

  • Location and cost: Some specialized programs may require students to attend colleges in specific locations or have higher tuition fees due to the additional services provided.

The Neurodiversity Network is a great source of information about different colleges around the country and what they have to offer.

When considering college programs for your neurodivergent child, it's important to understand the different levels of support available for your child and to take their individual needs and goals into consideration. Remember to involve your child in the decision-making process, as their perspective is vital in determining the best fit and will provide the best path to a successful college journey.


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