Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation in Practice

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Morgridge College of Education, Higher Education

First Advisor

Christine A. Nelson

Second Advisor

Laura Sponsler

Third Advisor

Sarah Friswold-Atwood


Autism, College, Residence halls, Students, Universal design, Universal design for learning


As populations of Autistic students at institutions of higher education increases, it is becoming more important for institutions to evaluate their programs with these students in mind. While the Autistic population has grown, policies and services on campuses have not become more inclusive or supportive of this population as a response. This evaluation examines the Residential Learning Model, the guide through which the residential life program at one institution of higher education is delivered to the students living in the residence halls. Through the lens of the Autistic students and the student staff who live and work in the residence halls, the model will be explored for ways that it can more effectively reach students on the Autism Spectrum. A utilization-focused program evaluation, using a constructivist approach, examines the lived experience of Autistic students’ interactions with peers, residence hall staff, and experience with the programs and interactions that are created through the Residential Learning Model. This evaluation uses the principles of Universal Design Theory to examine the data collected from Autistic students and resident advisors within this program. Using their choice of data collection method, student participants chose the method through which they tell the story of their time in the residence halls written accounts, and reflections of their experiences in the residence halls. These methods, as well as review of key documents that influence and structure the program, shed light on the Autistic student experience. The findings show the differences of expectations between Autistic students and their RAs, the importance of relationship to Autistic students and the learning that takes place in the residence halls, facilitated by the Residential Learning Model. These findings lead to recommendations for RA training, and some changes to the Residential Learning Model. Changes that can help Autistic students navigate through the residence life program, and which may influence their connection to the institution, relationships with staff as well as peers, their well-being, and their motivation to persist through school.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Mary F. Elliott


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

205 pgs


Higher education, Disability studies