Going to college is a challenge for many people, but especially anyone on the autism spectrum. Because college can be a relatively unstructured environment with a great deal of freedom, autistic students who are used to the structure of their normal classes can struggle with the transition. However, it is possible to succeed and make it through college. This advice can be used by students and families when getting ready for college.
Connect with Resources
Since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, colleges are required to provide students with reasonable assistance to help them with their classes. Each college may not offer the same assistance programs, so make sure to ask all potential schools what they can offer students with autism. Larger schools often have more programs and assistance, although every student is different, and some may thrive better in a smaller college.
Remember that individuals on the autism spectrum can only receive these accommodations if registered with their disability support group. The college will then provide assistance based on each student’s needs and what they offer. For example, some colleges will offer individual note takers, extended time on tests or tape recorders for classes. Before going to college, students and families may already know what they need which will be helpful when signing up for these programs.
Students Must Inform their Professors
If you need additional assistance in your classes, your professor is often a good resource. However, it is up to you to disclose that you have autism. Faculty members aren’t allowed to disclose information without your permission. If you register as a disabled student to receive assistance, then your support group will know of your situation. However, you may decide that you need to tell your professors although this decision is up to you.
Build on Your Past
Since students who go to college have often benefited from specific programs or schools whilst growing up, it’s important to use those skills in college. For example, structured programs such as the one offered at Spero Academy are designed to teach students how to learn. They offer small classes with a great deal of support. Unfortunately, you may not have this same level of support in college. College is the time to turn your knowledge of how you learned into active behavior. Some students with autism do well taking their own notes while others may need some help in this area. Think about your learning style and how to incorporate that into your classes.
Find Peaceful Spaces
College can be chaotic, and the noise can be bothering, especially if you prefer quiet environments. Since many people with autism find that they need quiet spaces to relax and unwind, look for areas where you can get away when you need some quiet time. Libraries often have individual study rooms that you can reserve and use to study or just enjoy some time away. You may find that your dorm and other public spaces are too loud. If you can’t avoid these spaces, consider some noise-cancelling headphones.
Find Social Support
Going to college is a scary experience for many people, so don’t go alone. Autism Speaks U is a college program that works with students around the country and helps to start chapters on campuses. They may also have mentoring programs available. You can see if there is a presence on your campus and consider joining one if possible. If not, there are other programs that campuses may have which can also be beneficial. If you don’t want to join one of these programs, find another group or club in your area. Finding friends can be a challenge so seek out a group where you have something in common.
Seek Out Post-Graduate Resources
Although you’re just going to college now, the time will go by faster than you can imagine! You may also want to consider taking on some summer internships or other work programs. Most schools will have a career program or career center that helps students to network with outside companies. The Americans with Disabilities Act also has information about job accommodations if needed. Make sure to start working on your next steps early in your senior year of college so you’ll have enough time to prepare.
Colleges May Restrict Course Loads
Most colleges have a limit on how many classes a freshman can take. If you have autism, some disability support groups require that you take a lower number of classes for your first few semesters to help you with your transition. Although you may be a good student and have excellent grades, giving yourself less stress can be beneficial. You’ll have more time to focus on fewer classes and develop your way of getting work done.
Decide Living Arrangements Early
Most colleges have on-campus housing but having an unfamiliar roommate can be a stressful situation. The accommodation provider that you’ll get as a student with autism can also take into account your required living arrangements. You may be able to get a single room if you feel you would not be able to cope in a shared space. Make sure that your resident assistant is aware of any special arrangements so that they can help you in an emergency situation. If you’re not sure about living on campus, some students do better living at home if that’s an option.
Be Proud of Yourself
This is advice that many people with autism give to others when they go to college. Going to school is a challenge for anyone and many people with autism struggle with higher education. However, one of the keys to success is to be confident that you belong in college and be prepared to educate your peers about autism. They’ll only know you have autism if you decide to tell them. However, educating people about your condition can make a big difference and is recommended by others who have had the same experience.
Although college is a challenge, students with autism have a greater amount of support than ever before. Make sure that you research the school and sign up for assistance programs early. It’s easy to be left behind, but these tips can help.