An Autistic’s Guide to Transitioning to College:
College is a hard transition for even typically developing people. But for people on the autism spectrum it is extremely daunting. We are thrown into an endless social situation where it is hard to find alone time and routine. I have created this guide to help those on the spectrum that are making the transition into college and what to expect. Being on the autism spectrum myself I know the difficulties. As someone who attended and completed a four year university I have some tips and strategies:
- Go before move in and find where your classes are.
Typically, you’ll receive your schedule before classes start. I highly recommend going with someone to find all the buildings your classes will be in before the mayhem of move in day arrives. You do not want to be floundering to find these buildings or classrooms right before class. Especially since most colleges have identical looking buildings. This will alleviate some stress and allow you to memorize the directions and where to go.
- Use your class schedule to plan out a routine.
Your routine is going to change in college. You have much more free time than high school because all of your classes are spread apart. Use your class schedule as well as the activity club schedules and other activities to create a predictable weekly routine. Decide when you will do homework, which clubs you would like to go to and when they meet, and when you will relax.
- Find a way to have alone time.
This is a hard one. In college, it is difficult to find time all to yourself, especially if you are sharing a dorm room. See if single dorms are available. If not, I would find hammocks or benches in areas of campus that were not over crowded and go there to find refuge when I needed personal alone time. There are also often empty library rooms or conference rooms you can use. Talk to your roommate beforehand and set boundaries. While this may feel awkward, you’ll be glad you did. Simple rules for both of you like switching off weeks cleaning, no guests in the dorm past a certain time on weekdays, etc. will be invaluable down the road.
- Making friends.
In college making friends is different because unlike high school, you do not see the same people every day. Your classes are so spread out that while you do see them in class it is unlikely you will see them much else unless you make an effort. I found that joining school clubs was a life saver for this. Find smaller and unintimidating clubs in areas that interest you like an anime club. There, you will meet like minded people and find friendships. Joining a service sorority or fraternity can also be a good option or simply just participating in service projects. You will meet the people you want to be friends with doing the things YOU like. When you meet someone and you want to expand the friendship, ask them if they want to eat lunch together or go to an event. Maybe even be study partners. Slowly but surely you will find a friend group in this way. For me, I joined student government, the honors program club, and did service projects. This is where I met my lasting friends.
- Take classes that interest you.
Yes, we need to take the core classes to graduate. But for your electives take classes in areas you genuinely like learning about. This is a time to explore. Not only will this help you in retaining interest in other subjects and allow you to be more likely to complete tasks, but it will help you make friends.
- Don’t be a hermit and isolate yourself.
Yes, it’s tempting especially with all the anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. But this is no way to live life. Make sure you push yourself at least a little. For me, I made sure I went to at least one social event a week. This allowed me plenty of time to prepare for it and make friends. Eventually, I was able to do more than one a week as I got more comfortable and had more of a routine. This ensures that you won’t feel or be isolated throughout your college experience. Pick one activity that you really love even if that is lunch with a good friend and stick to it once a week.
- Make your dorm room feel like home.
Surround yourself with things that comfort you and remind you of home. This will help ease anxiety and create a space for you. This way you won’t feel as homesick and will have more of a retreat to escape to. Take things from your room at home and put them in your dorm room, use your pillows from home, anything that will make it feel like YOUR space.
- Stay on top of your class syllabus.
Make sure you plan out deadlines for each class in an agenda of some sort so you can always stay on track of what classes you need and also be sure that you are completing all assignments and projects for the classes you are in. It can be easy to lose track and be overwhelmed at the end if not since you do not go to the same class every day. This will allow you to pace yourself throughout the semester and know if you are struggling in it. Incentivize yourself with things you enjoy as a reward for each completed assignment.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Professors are there to help you. If you are struggling in any way you can always talk to them and they will help you understand the assignment or how to approach it. If you are having social anxiety, every school has a student life and a counselor. There is no shame in making an appointment to talk about strategies for managing this transition and it is completely anonymous. Remember…nerotypicals are having a lot of the same struggles! Yes, they do not have the sensory overload or social anxiety, but this is a transition for everyone and each one of us struggles at some point. You are not alone!
- Have fun!
Most importantly, have fun. This is a learning experience for your mental growth too. Branch out, try new things, and do your best not to feel anxious. Most people are coming to college with a clean slate and no judgments. This is the perfect time to make new friendships in a less judgmental and cliquey atmosphere than high school. Because there are so many students in college, cliques do not exist as easily. Take advantage of that and learn things about yourself and try new things as you feel comfortable.