College is a new experience for students especially those with autism. It can be exciting, scary or both. Having to be away from the comfort zone they call home is hard even if the students live in dorms. College carries the expectation to do scholarly work and it can be hard on those on the spectrum, but not always. College does have some benefits for autistic students which can be used to their advantage.
Living on campus means learning independence and taking on important responsibilities. This includes time management skills and developing life skills such as deciding on a meal plan or going to the grocery store, doing laundry. All while also staying on top of school plus maintaining a personal life.
Campus life helps prepare for life beyond college while they live by themselves. Of course, they still need help from family for their needs but it is a good thing to prepare for adulthood because these students will need these skills for future careers.
Obtaining a higher education is a major benefit for students with autism.
The degrees they earn in college can be utilized to earn a living. By getting a higher education, they are preparing themselves for a future that they can choose. The degrees they earn in college can be utilized to obtain high-paying jobs.
Some colleges have programs that help students on the spectrum with school work and testing. APSU has the Office of Disability Services where students with disabilities can request accommodations such as alternative testing and assistive technologies. They can also extend their time on assignments if needed. Students with disabilities can also live in ADA dorms to have more private space and low sensitivity.
According to an article in Higher Education Today, a private room can relieve stress from social life, which is helpful for students during exam season when studying becomes top priority. These programs are set in place so that students with autism can feel comfortable in school while at the same time focus on academics.
The college experience is anything but perfect. There are also downfalls for autistic students dealing with college. For one, college is a hard transition for them. They have to deal with conflicting schedules and changing routines which can seem overwhelming.
Having an overload of schoolwork can be stressful; do not rush a student with autism. Allow them to go at their own pace.
Transitioning from the ins and outs of high school to the fast paced life of college can also take a toll on students with autism. “One of the big problems that students with autism face is the transition period and learning to navigate the college systems which are completely different from what they had to do when they were in high school,” research associate Jessica Rast from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute said.
Trying to maintain a social life in college can be difficult especially during the first year. People want to find a group that fits their personality best, but that is not always possible for disability students. The odd stares and being defined by their mental disability is something that they have to face every day, so isolation is a coping mechanism that they take on.
According to the Washington Post article by Jonathan Cox and Mikle South, a survey from Durham University in Britain shows that social isolation and mental health are the main problems with autistic students in universities. Due to the size of large universities, autistic students tend to struggle socially; which can be hard for anyone even if they do not have a mental or physical disability.
These students may need help developing social skills with people if they want to keep conversations. Mental health can also be a struggle for autistic students. According to Spectrum, autistic students “have high rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.” This is a huge problem because it impacts the students’ confidence in school and they may need help from counselors if it gets out of hand.
Education is important and so are the lives of students with autism. All students are different and have their own pacing with work and time, so it’s also important to consider and understand those who needs help. If anyone is in need of counseling, Student Counseling Services is located in the Ard Building.