Students Moving Forward: A Career-Focused Program for Students on the Spectrum

Recent studies indicate an estimated 1.9% of all college students in the U.S. have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)/Asperger’s, and that each year 16,000 new students on the spectrum begin the pursuit of a two-year or four-year college degree (Cox, Locks, Thompson, Morgan, Anderson, Edelstein, Mintz, & Wolz, 2017). While most campuses have some form of a resource office dedicated to helping students on the spectrum excel academically, rarely are there any targeted career services specifically designed to help the unique needs of this group of students.


In a 2015 study, undergraduate students who self-identified as being on the spectrum were interviewed concerning their attitudes and experiences toward applying and interviewing for various internships. Overwhelmingly, the students described the application and interview process as “confusing” and “intimidating.” In addition, the students expressed frustration that the corporate representatives who interviewed them lacked basic knowledge about ASD, which negatively impacted the students overall (Chen, Leader, Sung, & Leahy, 2015).


If the estimated percentage of college students with ASD is relatively accurate, then NC State University—a campus with over 33,000 students—could potentially have over 600 students on the spectrum. And, if most of these students are experiencing obstacles that make the job search intensely difficult, how can we best provide services to assist these students in securing internships and full-time degree-related opportunities post-graduation?


Students Moving Forward (SMF) is a career-focused program, provided by the Career Development Center, specifically designed for NC State students who self-identify as having ASD/Asperger’s. During the fall and spring semesters, students participate in a total of 10 group meetings (5 per semester) where they will prepare for the internship/job search process, directly connect with corporate partners in stimulus-controlled settings, learn how to utilize local resources, and engage in the development of critical interpersonal skills for the workplace.


This program has three primary objectives which are executed through evidence-based techniques. These objectives state that SMF will:


  1. Provide tailored and evidenced-based career guidance for students with ASD
  2. Cultivate a sense of community for the students and strengthen their social and professional networks
  3. Help students obtain and successfully navigate degree-related internships and full-time post-graduate opportunities


As a secondary objective, SMF will serve as an educational resource for NC State faculty, staff, and corporate partners who want to enhance their understanding of ASD and potentially create hiring processes better suited for students who are on the spectrum.


Currently, SMF has established partnerships with SAS and UNC TEACCH Autism to help better serve our students. If you are a current NC State student or recent graduate who identifies as having Asperger’s/being on the spectrum, you can register for SMF at


If you are the parent of a student and you would like more information, or you are an employer interested in partnering with SMF, please do not hesitate to email Wesley Wade in the Career Development Center at


*Note: the 9/17 meeting was canceled due to hurricane Florence and will be rescheduled. Our first meeting will be 10/8 @ 5:30pm featuring representatives from SAS*



Chen, J. L., Leader, G., Sung, C., & Leahy, M. (2015). Trends in Employment for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: a Review of the Research Literature. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 115-127.

Cox, B. E., Locks, T., Thompson, K., Morgan, L., Anderson, A., Edelstein, J., Mintz, A., & Wolz, A. (2017). College Experiences for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Person Identity, Public Disclosure, and Institutional Support. Journal of College Student Development, 71-87.