Starting university can be both an exciting but daunting experience. Despite what the media says, autistic people are capable of studying for a degree, we may just need to do some more planning and get some extra support.
As as autistic person who has just been through this transition process, here are some things I did to help and some I wish I did.
Choosing a course
Try to do what you enjoy but also consider how it will be delivered.
- Does the course include group work?
- Will you be expected to give presentations?
- How many seminars are there each week?
- How many people are in a seminar?
- If you need a career or support dog, will they be allowed on site?
Remember that courses with the same name can be taught differently at every university.
Choosing a university
Open days – assess the campus environment
Look at the lecture theatres, dining options, accommodation and think about your needs:
- Will you cope with the environment?
- Are there quiet halls or rooms?
- Can the university guarantee on-campus accommodation?
Society’s – research what is offered as these are a great way to make friends. Is there a disability society?
Location – do you want to live away from home?
Though I love the familiarity and support I receive at home, I also love the independence I now have. A university close to home gives you both options.
- Transport links & costs
- Distance from home
- Campus or city
- Noise of surrounding areas, London will be a lot noisier than Warwick
Support – Information from your UCAS form (like an autism disclosure) is not always passed on and read so try to contact the university to find out about available support as well as suitable adjustments.
Some universities run early arrival programmes where autistic freshers are able to move in a couple of days early to settle in. During my programme we were shown how to do laundry, walked to the local Tesco’s, told about different transport options, it was truly incredible and helped relieve so much anxiety.
The biggest challenge isn’t always the academic work, it’s quite often all the other parts of university life that come with living alone.
- Write a weekly meal plan and create a shopping list for each week
- Set up reminders to do laundry, clean your room etc.
- Join at least 2 societies – I found these were how I made my friends
- Create your own routine
Apply for DSA (UK only)
The Disabled Students Allowance is money from Student Finance that gives you specialist support and equipment to help with your disability.
This can include the following:
- 1:1 mentoring & study skills support
- Money to cover taxi fares
- Brain in hand – manage anxiety
- Software – dragon, read & write etc
In order to apply you need evidence of your diagnosis – I used my diagnosis report but a letter from your GP is also accepted.
This can be quite a long process if left until last minute so I recommend applying 6-9 months before you begin your course.
Once your application is confirmed you will have a meeting with a Needs Assessor. They will work with you to come up with a support plan – I found it quite straightforward and not as stressful as I thought.
Register with disability services
The disability team are able to arrange suitable adjustments and liaise with your academic department. Mine included:
- 25% extra time & rest breaks in all exams
- Venue of 5 or fewer students in exams
- Use of a computer for exams
- Leave lectures/seminars early if needed
- Supported for on campus accommodation
- Access to notes/handouts in advance
- Not asked unexpected questions
- Given money to pay for an ensuite bathroom
Helpful items to bring:
Noise cancelling headphones/ ear plugs
Highlighters – for important info!
Dictaphone – allows you to record a lecture
Important documents – passport, diagnosis report, birth certificate
Photos from home
Sunflower (hidden disability) lanyard
University is not for everyone so don’t feel pressured to go – there are so many other great opportunities out there
It is ok to not enjoy your course. It takes time to find what your passionate about. I thought I loved maths but it turns out I prefer economics & statistics
You don’t have to go to freshers events – I didn’t go to any of them and there actually quite a lot who prefer to stay in