Laura Crean is a member of AsIAm’s Youth Leadership Team and currently in her first year of studying science at Trinity College Dublin. In this blog, Laura shares her experiences of transitioning to college life, and about how expectations of what counts as a ‘successful transition’ are ultimately what an individual makes of it themselves, whether they are on the autism spectrum or not.

When beginning a new stage of your life, such as the transition to third level education, there are a great deal of expectations to deal with- the expectations of your family and peers, and most importantly, the expectations that you have for yourself. What others expect from you can often look very different to what you know is best for yourself, and this is especially true for autistic people.

As a college student, you’re often expected to join several clubs and societies, and go on nights out with your friends every week, in addition to keeping up with your coursework. For anyone who finds balancing all of these things difficult, or who simply isn’t interested in all of the social events at their college, they are seen to not be meeting the expectations of what a typical, successful college student looks like.

Our ideas of what success looks like are often based on what neurotypical people think of. This can lead to autistic people being viewed as ‘failing’ when they deviate from this image of success, even when they are living their lives in the way that’s best for them. For an autistic student in college, success can mean being happy in their chosen course, or making new friends, or joining one club or society that they particularly enjoy. Success and happiness look different for each person, and it is far more important to achieve the goals that you have set for yourself than to invest your time and energy into doing things that don’t make you happy, simply to please other people.

Regardless of what you hope to gain from your time in college, things are always easier when you have a good support system. One of best things about third level education is the number of different supports available- from student mentors to class tutors, there’s always someone to help you if you’re experiencing any difficulties. Furthermore, for any autistic students I would highly recommend registering with your college disability service. The disability service is different from other support systems in that it provides supports that are specific to your particular needs. Even if you didn’t receive any additional supports in secondary school, that doesn’t mean that it should be the same in college- make sure to avail of any supports that you’re entitled to.

Once I registered with the disability service in my college, I had a needs assessment appointment with my disability officer to discuss what accommodations I would need throughout the academic year. Additionally, in my college there is a weekly meet-up group for disabled students, which I was invited to join after registering with the disability service. In my opinion, groups like these are great for students, as it’s a good way to meet others who may be struggling with the same aspects of college life as you, as well as it just being a good way to make new friends.

That said, even when autistic students receive additional supports in college, this does not mean that we won’t experience any difficulties in college life- after all, disability supports don’t really extend beyond the classroom. Many of the most pressing issues for autistic students are the anxiety of meeting new people, the stress of living away from home, or the sensory difficulties of going on nights out to pubs or nightclubs. Although good college disability services can greatly improve accessibility on college campuses, the only way for autistic students to be truly integrated into college life is for accessibility to be a priority for everyone in campus, not just those who work in the disability service. It is incredibly important for all college students to have a basic understanding of autism and disability in general, and I feel that this is where most colleges are lacking. Regardless of how good a college’s disability service is, a college isn’t entirely accessible to all its students when disability isn’t openly acknowledged and understood by the entire college community.

We should not simply expect autistic students to constantly try to blend in with their neurotypical peers; rather, we should instead expect others to be more inclusive and understanding of other people’s differences. Not only does this benefit autistic students, it creates a more welcoming environment for everyone.

This is one individual’s opinion and experience. It does not necessarily reflect AsIAm’s views and positions as an organisation. If you’d like to blog for AsIAm.ie, get in touch by emailing gaibhin@asiam.ie.

FURTHER INFORMATION FROM ASIAM.IE

Accessing support at college