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Dear Roadie: Should We Reveal That My Daughter Has Autism, Anxiety, and Depression?

African American teen girl looking pensively out the window

Dear Roadie: Should We Reveal That My Daughter Has Autism, Anxiety, and Depression?

Published June 13, 2024

African American teen girl looking pensively out the window

Dear Roadie,
Is it okay to tell a college or university that my daughter has autism? She was accepted at a liberal arts college, received a scholarship, and paid the deposit. Since she is under 18, I need to fill out her health form. She has autism, anxiety, and depression, all of which are formal diagnoses, and she is taking Prozac. She manages her academics and life well, and none of this came up in her application. Should I tell the college about her health struggles in her health form? I can see why it would be helpful, but could they use it against her? Would they withdraw her acceptance or scholarship? Are there any cons to revealing her full medical history?
Unsure and Unsettled

Dear Unsure and Unsettled, 

It’s great to hear that your daughter with autism and depression is college-bound. More students and parents need to hear this, so they don’t feel like it’s impossible or that they’re the only ones. 

Statistics vary about how many students with autism, anxiety, or depression attend college, but given the prevalence of all three, you can rest assured students are dealing with the same things on just about every college campus, whether they’ve disclosed it or not. 

This is a tricky subject and I don’t blame you for asking for help. As I’m sure you know, there are varying degrees of depression, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorder, but all are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. No school can rescind an offer of admittance or scholarship because of a disability of any kind. 

As such, there is no legal requirement to disclose a disability on a college application or health form, and it’s illegal for colleges to ask or discriminate against students with any kind of disability, so your student should not be at any disadvantage. You’ll find that most schools encourage all students to apply and want to do their best to help them flourish. 

I sincerely doubt that any school would look negatively on any student who discloses they have autism, anxiety, or depression, especially if they have good grades and the stats necessary to be admitted. 

Reasons to Disclose Autism Spectrum Disorder

In the event that your daughter’s symptoms worsen, it would benefit her to be aware of any resources that are available on campus, should she need them. Many people don’t realize this, but nearly 100 schools have services and programs specifically for students with autism, and almost all of them have some form of resource for students struggling with their mental health. 

I’d hate for your daughter or any student to miss out on resources that may help them because they don’t want to disclose these things. Some of these resources may include peer groups where students can interact with students just like them, minimizing feelings of isolation. If schools don’t know your child may benefit from these resources, they can’t offer them to your student, so that is one reason to disclose a student has autism.

That said, you shouldn’t assume that because certain modifications were made in high school, they’ll be made at the college level. Every school is different, so it’s best to find out what services and programs exist before you apply, if possible. 

Should you decide to disclose, it’s important to know that by law, colleges are required to keep this information confidential. This means that just because the admissions department is aware, it doesn’t mean that all other departments, professors, and peer groups have any knowledge, so the student may find that they need to disclose this information repeatedly. 

Now, how much to disclose is entirely in the hands of the student. Is there a specific reason why you think that disclosing your child’s challenges may be a bad idea? Is it because they’re worried that others will notice on their own, perhaps during interviews or general exchanges? Do they hope to be connected with students dealing with the same challenges? Do they need certain considerations made because of those challenges? Some students want to disclose their autism spectrum disorder because they need more time for tests, for example. In those cases, it may be a good idea to inform all key parties to show that grades or even certain behaviors are not necessarily indicative of a student’s overall abilities.

Positive Perceptions of Autism Exist — Let’s Foster Those

It sounds like your daughter has already been admitted, but for those in similar situations who have yet to apply, the college essay presents a great opportunity to disclose these types of challenges. If it held a student back, talking about those experiences might help their application stand out. The same goes for a student who decides to write about it in the context of the many ways it’s made them a stronger student, athlete, or person. All of this brings authenticity to the college essay, something colleges increasingly say they’re looking for when examining applicant pools. 

Finally, anxiety, depression, and even autism aren’t perceived the way they were several years ago. More and more schools are adamant that they examine each student holistically, which means they look at the person’s totality, rather than defining them by any one or two things. 

Not only are we more openly discussing anxiety, depression, and autism, but society is more accepting overall. Don’t get me wrong, we still have a lot of progress to be made on behalf of these and all students with disabilities, but things are better today than they were 10 years ago, and that’s a good thing.

Deciding to disclose any of this is your student’s decision. Either way, it shouldn’t hurt their chances of being welcomed to any school — and in some cases, it might help.

Have a perplexing college question? Email Dear Roadie for advice at dearroadie@road2college.com

_______

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Other Articles You Might Like:

Mental Health in College Students: A Guide for Families and Friends

How My Neurodiverse Student Got Into Graduate School

10 Reasons We Should Stop Pressuring Teens to Have It All Figured Out

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