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Community Voices: Ella Durrigan on Starting College

Autism vs First Year of college

May 2019: I have just finished my summer exams. I had dropped out of college twice before and this was third time lucky. I had finally completed the first year of a degree in Digital Marketing, Communication and Public Relations in Dundalk IT, a course with a mixture of academic, creative and technology skills that I fell in love with.

 

The first semester was the hardest. I was on a mission to hide the fact that I was autistic. I would go to college only to come home and have a meltdown and not go back for another few days. This cycle went on all semester and by the time Christmas holidays came along, the stress of college had physically got to me, leaving me sick for the whole break.

 

I decided I was going to leave college again and honestly, I felt like most people were expecting this. However, my parents pushed me to keep going. I decided to give it another go but before long, I was back into the same cycle and I knew that this wasn’t working. My parents kept telling me to ask for help, but I refused. I couldn’t let my secret out!

 

After falling sick again, I decided to send an email to all my lecturers explaining that I was autistic and had ADD, what it meant and that I needed help with finishing first year. I really believed I’d be treated differently now in college, that I’d just be viewed as someone with a disability, nothing more. However, it was the opposite, with every single lecturer replying with nothing but support and suggestions on how they felt they could help.

Image result for dundalk it disability

And from there, college got better, thanks to just one email where I was open and honest. I wasn’t treated any differently – I still had to do my work – just in different ways. For example, some lecturers allowed me to do solo presentations instead of group presentations and I was able to present just in front of the lecturers and friends. I also didn’t have to come in everyday- I did the coursework at home – but after everyone knew, I started going in more. College suddenly wasn’t as hard as it had been for me in my first semester.

 

I had also made good friends in college and I decided to let them in on my secret.  They made no big deal out of it but just pushed me harder to finish the year. They helped me with notes and group projects, especially when I wasn’t in, reminding me to eat when I was gone into full stress mode, the list goes on.

 

Through accepting my diagnosis and no longer hiding it, I got a lot more confidence in myself. In my second semester we had a writing module where we had to create a blog. And what did I do my blog on?  Living with autism on a day-to-day basis. Not only was the secret out but I had fully accepted it and I wanted to help others on the spectrum.

 

With increasing numbers of students on the spectrum attending college, there are several ways that third-level institutions can be more autism-friendly for us. The first way is by educating staff about the spectrum, what it is about and what day to day life is like for us.

 

Another way to help first years on the spectrum is to have a separate Orientation Day before they start college. This way, they get to see the college in a smaller group setting without the masses of people who attend Orientation Week. Colleges should offer quiet places for students on the spectrum, separate to the library! Some people on the spectrum have sensory issues and the noises in a library e.g. rustling of paper, bright lights, whispering could send us into overload! Also, routine is a huge part of autism so when there are free hours between classes, we sometimes need help filling in the blanks.

 

I also registered in the disability services in Dundalk IT, which helped as I got a lot support there. Students need to be made aware of the disability services in college and the help that is available.

 

My advice for students themselves is: don’t keep it a secret. Be open and honest with yourself and the people around you and half the battle has been won. People on the spectrum can become so hyper focused on college that we work too hard, stressing ourselves to a point of a meltdown.  When it comes to college work, mind yourself – it isn’t the end of the world if you need an extension for an essay or a day or two off. College is achieved in three to four years or more, not in a week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

by - 11 September, 2019

Last updated by - September 24, 2019

in Anxiety and Meltdowns, Autism, Autism and Women, Blog, College, Community Voices, Education, Mental Health, Routine

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Up to sixty early years professionals attended the ‘Teach Me AsIAm’ Early Years seminar in Limeri...[...]

DCU Autism-Friendly Campus Launched Today

by - 22 March, 2018

Dublin City University was recognised as the world’s first autism-friendly university by AsIAm to...[...]

Nicole Duggan: My Boy Blue

by - 19 February, 2018

Nicola Duggan is a young parent of a child on the autism spectrum. She has been blogging about he...[...]

Spotlight: Autism Spectrum Fitness

by - 15 February, 2018

Fitness and keeping up exercise can be challenging habits to start, nevermind keep, for those of ...[...]

Daniel Fitzpatrick: Mental Health & Being on the Autism Spectrum

by - 31 January, 2018

Autistic individuals are likelier to develop complications with their own mental health than thos...[...]

Brian Irwin: Accessibility & Finding the Supports You Need

by - 19 December, 2017

Brian Irwin, a self advocate based in Cork, talks about his personal journey as a young person on...[...]

Kevin Hanly: “Take it One Day at a Time”

by - 28 November, 2017

Beginning a new start anywhere – whether it’s a new school, a new college or a job – is as exciti...[...]

Brian Irwin: Sensory Overload & Meltdowns

by - 8 November, 2017

Sensory overloads are common experiences with many autistic individuals and can often lead to mel...[...]

Laura Crean: Just what is a ‘successful’ transition?

by - 17 October, 2017

Laura Crean is a member of AsIAm's Youth Leadership Team and currently in her first year of study...[...]

Kevin McLoughlin: ‘Look At Me Now’

by - 4 October, 2017

Kevin McLoughlin is a member of our Youth Leadership Team and is currently completing his Leaving...[...]

Louise Ryan: Knowing Parents’ Rights for Your Child’s Education

by - 2 October, 2017

Louise Ryan from Co. Limerick, a mother of two young boys on the autistic spectrum, talks about h...[...]

Socialising & Building Social Skills

by - 29 September, 2017

Amid preparing for school or for college, whilst we’re often completely caught up worrying if we’...[...]

Joanne Weller: Back to Education and Transitioning from School to College and Further Education

by - 22 September, 2017

It’s the time of month again to go back to school and starting third level education, even going ...[...]

Kevin Hanly: New Journeys Starting College

by - 1 September, 2017

With the college term fast approaching, students across Ireland are busy readying themselves for ...[...]

Poem: BE YOU – NIQUE

by - 25 July, 2017

Leigh E. O'Brien's young nephew Liam lives with autism. Earlier this year, she composed this poem...[...]

Spotlight: Middletown Centre for Autism

by - 24 July, 2017

The Middletown Centre for Autism is an educational and research facility whose work revolves arou...[...]

Adam Kennefick: Autism Through My Eyes

by - 17 July, 2017

When I was just a small child, my parents and teachers noticed something different about me. They...[...]

Interview: Autism, Tipp G.A.A. and Me

by - 6 July, 2017

This week, we sat down with Kevin Hanly, a young man from Tipperary to talk about his experiences...[...]

Sean Foley: My ongoing experiences with feelings

by - 4 July, 2017

For an autistic individual like myself, 'feelings' is something of a grey area. We do experience ...[...]

NEW MONTHLY COMPETITION: Your thoughts on…

by - 1 September, 2016

We are excited to announce a new monthly competition on AsIAm.ie! Every month we will ask users t...[...]

Lisa Domican: If I can’t talk, how can I tell you where it hurts?

by - 1 October, 2014

Lisa Domican, Founder of Grace App, talks about the challenge for parents in identifying pain in ...[...]

RTE News Six:One – AsIAm.ie “Back to School” Handbooks

by - 10 September, 2014

The challenges of "Back to School" for students with Autism, and the launch of the AsIAm.ie "Back...[...]

Kenneth Whelan: “Why don’t you take Ethan to this CoderDojo thing?”

by - 25 August, 2014

Many families affected by Autism may be considering possible suitable extra-curricular activities...[...]

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My Child / All About Me Handbooks: Every child with Autism is different

by - 24 August, 2014

There is an old adage: "If you know one person with Autism, you know one person with Autism" It ...[...]

Newstalk Breakfast: Vanessa Fox-O’Loughlin shares her story & AsIAm “Back to School” Handbooks

by - 22 August, 2014

Yesterday we were delighted to launch our AsIAm "Back to School" Handbooks for teachers, parents...[...]

Press Conference: AsIAm “Back to School” Handbooks

by - 21 August, 2014

AsIAm.ie has today published a series of guides to help people with autism deal with the major ch...[...]

Sean O’Rourke Show Podcast: AsIAm “Back to School” Handbooks

by - 20 August, 2014

Tomorrow, AsIAm will launch its "Back to School" Handbooks on Autism, for parents, students and t...[...]

Download Today: AsIAm “Back to School” Handbooks

by - 20 August, 2014

Education can throw up many challenges for students with Autism such as the environment, structur...[...]

Dr Aoife Lyons: Organisational & Study Skills

by - 5 April, 2014

  Dr Aoife Lyons, licensed clinical psychologist and university lecturer in UCD and DCU, ha...[...]

Mairead Quinn: Our Doggy Superheroes

by - 4 April, 2014

April  is Autism Awareness Month but we’re aware of Autism 365 days a year in our house. Our hom...[...]

Dr Aoife Lyons: Things students with Autism or ADHD would like their teachers to know

by - 23 March, 2014

Dr Aoife Lyons, licensed clinical psychologist and university lecturer in UCD and DCU, puts herse...[...]

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