Advice for Aspiring College Individuals on the Autism Spectrum
August 2, 2011
By Kerry Magro
Last May, I did something I had only dreamed of. When I was 4, I was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Almost 18 years later, I conquered my dreams by receiving a diploma from Seton Hall University. I still can’t believe this to be true, but I’m very grateful that it happened.
Looking back, I know I dealt with many difficulties along the way that have made me a stronger individual. I am thankful for the people who spent the hours working with me through physical, occupational, and speech therapies, who made something that seemed like “mission impossible” become possible. I know my family played a big part in where I am today by opening their hearts to me, and I would like to do the same for the readers who look at this blog today.
Each year I attended Seton Hall University, I knew that preparation was a big part to getting me to the next level. That meant knowing how to prepare. Today I’ll share with you some tips for how an individual on the autism spectrum can take full advantage of possible college opportunities that are present for them.
People tend to take the summer as a time for vacation and R&R, but the summer before going to college for the first time has to be a combination of work and play in moderation. The first step for everyone should be to make themselves aware and knowledgeable of their disability support programs at their college.
Your mission can be broken down into...
- Making sure you understand who the faculty members are for your program (director, disability specialist, etc.)
- Understanding what accommodations they offer (extended time on tests, private rooms for exam periods, individual note-takers, etc.)
- Finding out if there is a disability support student organization (important in regards to making sure students have a “voice” and community that can promote acceptance and diversity).
It should come as no surprise that some schools are more “disability friendly” than others, but the important thing to remember is that you receive all the reasonable accommodations that you are granted under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Parents and aspiring college students should therefore be knowledgeable of the differences that are shown between reasonable accommodations and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that is offered from grades kindergarten through 12. An IEP does not exist in college, which can be a scary realization. Preparation for this transition becomes essential.
Your next step for the summer is slightly more generic; however you should make sure to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses as much as possible. Keeping a track of your evaluations from high school (grades, exit interviews, along with getting yourself a re-diagnosis, can show you where you have come from and where you should look to go in the future). Once you have all of your evaluations/assessments handy, you should take time reviewing these yourself and/or with your family and figure out what you need help with.
When I was going through this process, I noticed a big discrepancy regarding my verbal and math scores. My parents and I focused on this and tried to find out where this problem lied and how it could be assessed in a college setting. We came up with a system of using a USB recording device for all of my college classes (this became one of my first accommodations I asked for in college) and then came up with a schedule of listening to the recordings for a set time before/after that specific class. For others, a smart pen device (such as this one) may be useful, along with getting an accommodation to use a laptop with a built in microphone to record lectures. My advice for you is also to make an appointment to meet your disability support program faculty and share with them your high school performance records to see what advice they can give as well.
In addition, I need to strongly encourage the ability to self-advocate and prepare yourself for the unexpected. It’s up to the student to decide whether or not they want the parents to be involved in their academics in college (I had to sign a paper allowing my parents to talk to my advisors). Most faculties will promote the idea of self-advocating because, as young adults, they expect you to be adapting to more responsibility at the college level. Many, however, don’t realize that autism in itself is a communication/social interaction disorder and this may be difficult for some more than others. By being prepared, you give yourself that safety net that can help prevent you from burning out in the first few weeks.
- Figure out whether you would feel comfortable living in a college dormitory. With proper documentation, you can ask for a single room to make your transition easier!
- Speed Reading Courses (many are available at college institutions for students of all ages around the U.S.! You can also look for online video instructions, such as the one here)
- Asking for a learning buddy (an upcoming sophomore to help show you the ropes)
- Maintaining healthy reading and exercise habits (30 minutes a day for each) to keep the mind sharp in the summer
- Reaching out to local and national autism-related organizations (such as the Autism Society and Autism Speaks) to talk with experts in regards to self-help and support groups.
LASTLY: Prepare for a learning experience like you’ve never had! These past 4 years have been the best time of my life and they can for you, too! Always remember, no matter what, to put your best foot forward and take everything in stride. Mix work with fun and remember that autism can’t define you, only you can define autism! Be everything you can be and more, always!
*If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through my Fan Page.
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