Asperger’s at college: choosing the right school
Going to college can be the first major life transition for someone with Asperger’s. Choosing the right place at the right time can make it much easier to cope with the changes that will inevitably come.
Often, a young person has developed coping skills and has a support system that includes parents, long-term friends and teachers that have allowed him to do well in high school. College is a big transition for any person, but for someone on the autism spectrum, it can be overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be.
The first consideration in choosing a college is finding one that is prepared and eager to meet your particular needs. Some colleges have programs set up particularly for students with Asperger’s. Fairleigh Dickinson University has one such program.
All colleges and universities should have an Americans with Disabilities coordinator who can help with any accommodations that the student requires. The job of an ADA coordinator is to help anyone with a disability to negotiate college while reducing barriers to learning. ADA coordinators are a good first stop when considering a college or university. Whether you tell everyone that you have Asperger’s or only a few people, the ADA coordinator is one person who needs to know. (See our previous story about sharing your diagnosis with others.) A satisfactory interview with a coordinator who makes it clear that the college can and will help you is the best indicator that this school will be a good fit for you.
The size of the college can make a big difference in success for an Aspie. I started college at age 47 after many years out of school. In order to get my bearings, I chose a community college, Northeast Lakeview College, that was very close to my home. Being in a new environment was a strain. It was helpful not to have a long commute adding to the stress. The college was new in my community, with very small classes of seven to 25 people. The professors were very available to me and I could get to know the campus, the students and the faculty very quickly.
When it came time to choose a senior college for my last two years, I chose a small university, Texas Lutheran University. The class size was similar to community college. The ADA coordinator was helpful and welcoming. I became comfortable with the university in a very short time. Eventually, the TLU community’s support contributed to my decision to write publicly about Asperger’s syndrome.
Self-awareness and understanding of the potential problems an Apie faces is critical to college success. Another Aspie, Penny,* attended a very large university. She didn’t have a diagnosis until she had already begun her time at university. Penny wishes she had understood her syndrome.
“I think that self awareness regarding Asperger’s is key when beginning college. I think if I had known why I was having so much trouble attending classes, making friends, and just TALKING, it would have made things a lot easier for me. I wish I had more information about Asperger’s at the time I started college (2003). But, I had never heard of it then and just considered myself crazy. Had I been able to understand and accept myself, I think I would have been able to cope much easier with all the changes of starting college.”
Finally, traditional age Aspie students and their parents need to prepare for college by transitioning responsibility for daily activities from the parent to the young adult student. At a minimum, Aspies need to be prepared to recognize and anticipate problems and to ask for help from the appropriate person. Those who still need a lot of intervention from their parents might consider waiting to enter college, attending a school close to home, allowing the student to live at home, or attendance at a college that has a program specifically for students with Asperger’s syndrome. The Asperger Foundation International maintains a list of universities that give special transition assistance to Aspies.
Many Aspies find their college years to be times of growth. Every year that passes makes life easier for me. I may have been a little slower in getting there, but Asperger’s doesn’t cause me the same problems it did in past years. Penny uses skills she learned during her last year in college to network with her co-workers, work in groups and meet new situations. She agrees that Asperger’s doesn’t have to remain a problem.
“Now, I don’t even consider it much of an issue and am very successful in my job.”
*Penny has commented on this site. We are using a pseudonym at her request to maintain confidentiality.