Autistic at University

So, Leila has gone off to university as planned and is currently settling into her new student life.

Although I’m already missing her terribly I am really pleased for her.

Leila is living in a small student flat with 8 other students with a shared kitchen and two shared shower rooms. They will all need to develop expert skills in negotiation and cooperation in order to co-exist happily at such close quarters for the coming year. Leila, having grown up with three siblings, will not be learning these skills from scratch which I hope will be of some help to her.

It’s freshers week now so she’ll be going to lots of events, meeting tonnes of new people and finding her way around a new city. From memory it’s an exciting but also overwhelming time with the constant bombardment of all things new.

Starting university can be daunting for any student but what is it like for students who are autistic, like my son, Edward?

I know of at least four young autistic people who have gone to university in recent years. Two of them chose to study at the local university so that they could continue to live at home, thereby reducing the amount of change occurring in one go and having a safe and familiar place to return to each day. One completed a year at uni but did not return to finish their course. The other seems to be thriving. He’s left home but is near enough so that he can easily pop back at weekends if he needs to. He’s doing a course which he’s really interested in and he’s even joined the university Aspergers society, which provides opportunities for autistic students to meet one another socially.

When it comes to choosing a university for Edward, as well as looking at the courses on offer, we’ll be taking a look at the support available for autistic students.

Support varies quite a lot from one uni to another. Some have societies for their autistic students to meet each other in calmer environments which are not too loud. Having lived for years in a university city I can vouch for the fact that freshers events seem to be loud, alcohol fuelled affairs – exactly the kind of environments which would be intolerable for someone like Edward. It’s good to know that some universities are thinking about how to welcome students who do not fit in with the typical fresher style events.

Some universities provide mentor support for autistic students who need extra help with planning their time and adjusting to changes.

Some also provide help for autistic students who live off campus but who would struggle to use public transport.

To access mentor support or help with transport a student would have to apply for a disabled students allowance

If you have an autistic child I think you’d have to look carefully at what type of university accommodation would work out better for them or indeed whether it would be best for them to continue to live at home. At the moment I imagine Edward (and the people he ends up living with) would be happier if he had an en suite shower room so that he didn’t have to negotiate over when he had his super long showers. I think he’d also adapt better to moving into catered accommodation so that he didn’t have to organise cooking for himself in his first year away from home. Having the structure of a meal provided at the same time every day would help form a workable and practical routine to add structure to his days. Many autistic students may have sensory issues around food which would necessitate them being in self catering accomodation so that they had more control over what they ate.

It’s going to vary a lot from person to person.

Getting the details right could make the difference between a successful time at university or dropping out early with only debt to show for it, which is a hard introduction to adult life and not one any parent would wish for their child.

I am hopeful that Edward will be able to go to university to study a subject which he loves in a few years time.

We’ll be looking to put things in place to make it as likely as possible that he has a positive experience.

If you know an autistic child who is thinking about heading off to college or university I’d recommend reading this Starting college or University?  which is from the National Autistic Society’s website.

Spectrum Sunday
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