Master of Arts in Higher Education (MAHE) Theses

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Tim Herrmann

Second Advisor

Kelly Yordy

Third Advisor

Scott Barrett

Distinguished Theses



Higher education institutions exist to prepare individuals academically, personally and socially for life after college. However, individuals with special needs, specifically those with “invisible disabilities” like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are often overlooked or left out in discussions about higher education. The purpose of this study was to develop a greater understanding of how a sense of belonging affects a student’s experience in higher education when they have a diagnosis of autism and how institutions can create a successful environment of belonging for their students with ASD. The study implemented a case study design and interviewed current students and staff members at a small private Christian college in the Midwest to accurately capture their experience. The results revealed that students with ASD are able to experience a sense of belonging when given the proper relationships and tools to succeed. Despite the limits of studying one single institution, other colleges and universities may significantly benefit from thoughtful consideration, adaption, and implementation of the results.