College is a time of beginnings, transitions, socializing, managing coursework, and complex relationships with professors. According to a study by the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, fewer than 20% of autistic college students are on track to graduate. While systemic issues compound these statistics (i.e. poor funding for transitions of people with autism into adulthood), we can focus on our locus of control and achieve our personal best at school. Here are a few tips for navigating college while autistic:
1) Research and request accommodations. The fight for accommodations can be arduous. Some schools are better at offering supports than others. Even so, look into whether or not the basics can be provided. Self-advocacy is essential here. We have to be insistent to get what we deserve Possible accommodations include lecture notes from professors, provided study guides, longer time for tests and in-class responses, and single dorms. If a person with autism is self-diagnosed, talking with professors about potential needs is completely appropriate.
2) Socializing with fellow students is a big hurdle. I can vividly recall changing friend groups nearly every semester, bullying in clubs, and struggling with study groups. My advice is to socialize with one person at a time and over meals. Meeting new friends in clubs is a great idea, and it’s okay to stop attending a club once a few connections are made. Lastly, avoid chatting about grades, financial aid, and people’s dating histories. These topics are often taboo.
3) Sensory sensitivities are an undeniable reality in college. Computer screens, fluorescent lights, virtual classrooms, and crowded tables can set us off. Take breaks between study sessions to rest the eyes and consider purchasing glasses that filter blue light. Sit at the edge of tables or near the front or corners of a room. Discrete Bluetooth earbuds were a lifesaver for me during class and even exams. Just be sure to leave phones in the dorm to avoid accusations of cheating!
4) Take fewer classes. It’s okay to go at different pace. Even if we graduate a little later, it’s better to take it slow than rush and burnout!