As someone diagnosed with autism, I have faced many challenges at university. However, I have learnt from my experiences and made a lot of good memories. Here, I give my advice on managing four areas of University life as an autistic student.
1) Living Out and Settling In
A good proportion of autistic students aren’t fond of change. Therefore, the prospect of having to live out and be away from their parents can seem extremely nerve racking. Even if you are living at home and commuting, there is still a lot of things you have to adapt to. Luckily, my university allowed me to arrive 2 days early which allowed me to adapt and settle in before things got busy with Arrivals Weekend. However, it can take time to settle in to university life, and you will make mistakes initially– this is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of, and one thing I always advise to any upcoming fresher is to give this process time. You will learn from your experiences and mistakes as you begin to settle in, which will help your personal development.
One thing I would also highly recommend is to visit the university beforehand, so that you can get a feel for the environment and the surroundings. I visited the university twice before I started, and it certainly made things easier when I moved in.
2) Making Friends
Before university, I had massive doubts over whether I would be able to make friends due to my autism. However, despite my worries I went to university with an open mind and ensured that I made an active attempt to meet people and initiate conversations. And that worked extremely well for me! On my very first day at university I met someone from my course who also moved in early, and we are still really close friends today. This put me immediately at ease, and after meeting lots of people I quickly came to realise that everyone you meet is very understanding of autism so I didn’t need to worry about whether I would make friends just because I had autism! The advice I would specifically give to autistic students is to just be yourself, and don’t try and change your personality just to “fit in”; if you be true to who you are and give yourself opportunities to meet people, you will make real friends that accept you for who you are!
3) Extracurricular Activities and Getting Out of My Comfort Zone
University can throw many challenges for students with autism, but at the same time it also offers a lot of highly rewarding opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and grow as a person. Whilst at university I have joined several societies, including the Hindu Society, Krishna Consciousness Society, Badminton Society, which have allowed me to try new things and gain new perspectives. I have also been fortunate enough to have taken 3 different society committee positions and volunteered in India, all of which have allowed me to develop many soft skills and expand my comfort zone. My advice to autistic students would be to keep an open mind and take every challenge that comes your way as an opportunity to engage, enjoy and thrive at university. Getting out of your comfort zone can be challenging but the rewards are certainly worth it.
4) Specific Support Available for Students with Disabilities
There is lots of support that is available at university for autistic students. Before fresher’s week, I visited the Disability Services support team at my university and they were extremely helpful in ensuring that arrangements were put in place to guide my transition into university, such as allowing me to arrive 2 days early. Throughout university, they have always been easily approachable whenever I have needed something.
It is completely up to you whether you want to disclose your autism to your university. But if you do, you can be assured that it is against the law to be discriminated against due to your autism. Furthermore, it is worth noting that the university wants you to do well, and they are willing to help in any way they can.
Remember that autistic people have unique qualities that enable them to thrive and succeed at university. Good Luck!
I originally wrote this blog post for Student Minds.