How do I support my autistic child as they transition from school to college?
Big changes are worth considering carefully in the context of autism, and the transition to college is no different. The transition from second level to third level education can be an overwhelming and sometimes nerve wracking experience. The school environment can be challenging for some autistic people, they may feel exhausted or anxious coming home from school most days. If your child has felt like this, they might feel nervous about venturing further and beginning in third level education.
Third level education is a very different experience than secondary school. As well as differences in learning styles and environment this may be your child’s first experience living away from home, budgeting for themselves, cooking and cleaning for themselves or even something as simple as getting public transport into college for the first time. Your child is experiencing a lot of changes. There might be thousands of other students on campus in third level education. Encourage your child to engage with the disability and support service within their institution. These are a helpful team who can offer your child additional support around academics as well as social aspects of college life.
In third level education your child will get a lot more freedom and independence. This is a great opportunity for growth and development however sometimes it can be very difficult to find the motivation to work independently. Your child may need some additional support in learning how to manage their own responsibilities. It is important to give your child some more independence at this stage in their life but there are a number of ways you can help your child support themselves.
It might be helpful for you to sit down with your child and discuss their various deadlines throughout the year or the semester, you could help them timetable and schedule specific times to work towards these deadlines. Check in with you child, ask them what they are unsure about or what they need help with. If your child has some questions about a module or a particular assignment you could ask them if they would like some help composing an email to their lecturer to ask these questions.
The most important thing you can do is be there for your child. You know your child better than anyone else. Observe your child, watch out for when they might be becoming anxious or stressed. Also give your child space to settle in and develop their independence. The process of transition from school to college doesn’t happen overnight, especially in the context of autism. It can take a number of weeks if not months for your child to begin to feel settled in third level education, be patient and continue to support them in whatever way you can.