Straight from the Source- How I Excelled in College as an Individual with ASD
Posted on 10/29/18 in Transition to Adulthood by Milestones
College can be a major part of adult life for some people on the autism spectrum, I know it was for me. At college, you have a lot more freedom to make choices that can directly impact your future. One of the things I enjoyed the most during my college years is that my special interests weren’t something that I had to keep to myself. I was able to explore my interests, write academic papers about them, and engage with others around our shared interest in the topic. It was a place where I felt free to be myself. However, that’s not to say that it wasn’t without its challenges. Here are some important things I learned during my time at college that I hope help other individuals who have either just started their journey or intend to begin school soon.
Join groups – Social relationships can be tricky for people with autism. However, college provides a great opportunity to make friends. In college, you can join special interest groups or even create your own. I have a special interest in Japanese history, holidays, and art forms. As a teenager, it was difficult to find people who wanted to talk about obscure topics like Takarazuka (a type of stage performance where women play all roles) and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanabata">Tanabata</a> (a star festival). However, in college I was able to connect with like-minded people. Through the relationships I forged, I was even able to travel internationally and participate in some of these activities.
Plan your routine – College comes with a lot more freedom. At college, you get to pick your own schedule (this varies a bit depending on the course catalog for your specific program). You may have the option to take some of your classes on the weekend, to take evening classes (if you are the type who prefers to sleep in, or if you work during the earlier parts of the day), to have all of your classes crammed into one day, or to scatter them out and take only one class per day. You can choose to go full-time, part-time, or take only a single class. While you also have the freedom to skip class (without a note being sent home to mom or dad), I would personally advise against this unless absolutely necessary. College classes move much more quickly through the material and it can be easy to fall behind. Many teachers also give helpful tips about what specific questions may be asked on the midterms and finals. Instead, use your flexibility in choosing your own schedule to plan breaks in between your classes or to make sure that you always have your mornings or afternoons free.
Ask for help and help others (when you can) – Everyone comes to college with different challenges. In middle school and high school, I moved around a lot and eventually fell between the cracks because of my different educational and behavioral health needs. My middle school and high school experience was anything but traditional. College for me was an opportunity for a fresh start. However, because my educational background was so different than my neurotypical peers, there were essential parts of the curriculum that I just didn’t know anything about. Tutoring and writing center services helped me quite a bit to catch up. While you don’t get access to IEP services in college, you can request assistance with taking notes, locating a quiet space to take tests, and other accommodations to help you be successful. I found that I had a special talent with Japanese language, psychology, and anthropology. I used my special talents to then help others. This was beneficial for me for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most important are that it helped me build relationships with my classmates and it boosted my self-confidence.
Consider location – Many colleges have smaller regional campuses. I started my college career at a very small regional campus, I gradually transitioned to a larger regional campus before ultimately attending the very large main campus. This added to my travel time, but worked well for me because I was able to gradually adjust to the sensory demands of a larger campus. Some campuses also offer the opportunity to take some classes online. I took quite a few online classes. However, while online classes can help with sensory needs, I found that I lost out on opportunities to engage/listen in on the classroom discussion. As a student, I also regularly stayed after class to discuss the classroom topic in greater depth with my professors. Seeing my passion for the curriculum, these professors provided me with helpful references when I went to apply for graduate school and employment.
Plan for the future -- If you wish to continue your education, master’s degree and PhD programs require that you complete their application by a specific deadline. Many of these programs also require that you complete additional testing, such as the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). These tests are generally scheduled several months prior to the application deadlines and can be difficult to pass if you don’t allocate plenty of time to study. For those who instead want to seek employment after graduating, consider volunteering and engaging in academic groups on campus. Even if it is only an hour or two each week, these can be great activities to enhance your resume. You can also try applying for a job on campus. Many schools have jobs that are set aside specifically for students, such as tutoring and IT support positions. College is a place to figure out who you are and to decide what direction you want to go in life. It’s okay if things feel confusing or scary. It’s okay to take different classes outside of your major, you can even change your major if you find that there is a different program you like better. Take this time to explore new things and embrace the learning experience along the way.
For more college-related resources, click here.
Preparing for college entrance exams? Check out our Straight from the Source blog from Lucas Estafanous about getting ready for the big day.
Nathan Morgan, MSSA, LSW is the Early Intervention/School Age Coordinator at Milestones. Prior to joining the professional staff, he completed professional internships with Milestones and Achievement Centers for Children, where he also worked as their Early Childhood Mental Health Social Worker. Nathan specializes in providing consultation to young children and their caregivers. Nathan is also an autism self-advocate who has shared his experiences on panels, at events, and on the local news. He is passionate about teaching and autism-related research.
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