Starting university as an autistic student

Like many students, my first year of university has been during the coronavirus outbreak, which has made my experience of being a student unique to other years’ freshers. On top of this, I am also an autistic student, which even in normal circumstances can make changes such as going to university quite challenging. For me personally, I find that change is quite frequently the biggest hurdle I have to overcome in life, especially if I have no control over the change. Although I had the support of my family and teaching support, I knew that if I was going to go to university and have a smooth transition, I was going to have to organise everything to do with university myself.

If you’re an autistic student starting University this year, here’s four tips that might help:

Make sure you are organised

From writing my personal statement to choosing which universities to apply to and touring university open days, I needed to organise everything myself so that I knew I had control over what I was doing. I think this is one way in which I cope with change – by making sure I am in control of the process from beginning to end. Making sure you organise yourself may be helpful in alleviating some of your worries.

The edge of a keyboard and the edge of a notebook with a blue pen on it.

Speak to the university

It’s important to talk to the university and make sure support plans are in place for you and that you have access to all of the resources available. There is plenty of support out there at Student Services and it may make university that little bit easier for you.

See if you can move in a few days early

I moved in three days before the rest of my flat to allow myself to settle in and acclimatise before any social expectations were made of me. Moving in early and being able to get to know things can help relieve anxieties about living at university.

Two people holding boxes. The person on the left is holding one box and the person on the right is holding two. The boxes are large and cover their faces. In the background there is a white wall and some house plants.

Have a family member stay for the first night

I also had my mum stay with me for the first night so that she could help me set up my room. Many things regarding setting up I cannot do or are unsafe for me to do – in my university bedroom, there are several high shelves and cupboards and accessing these as someone who is 4’6 is incredibly dangerous. I also needed emotional support so having my mum there for the first night was very important to me, as I can find processing my emotions very difficult. Having someone you trust who knows you well can be really valuable.

I take things ‘one step at a time’ and I think that with time, I’ll be able to do them. I know that I will feel so proud of myself, as I already do, for doing these things that I never thought I’d be able to do two years ago. I think that everyone has the potential to reach their goals. Just because you may need more support or you might take longer to reach them does not make them any less amazing. Everyone works at their own pace and it’s so important to take your time and do things properly so that you feel safe, comfortable and empowered to do the things you want to do.

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