Overcoming the challenges of being an autistic student

Now I have been a student for most of my first year, I have found what works for me through all the challenges and new things that I have encountered since living away from home. I have learnt how to manage all these new things and address my biggest worries.

Money

Money was my biggest concern when I moved here but I have learnt how to manage it so that I have enough money to be able to feed myself and take care of myself properly. I put all of my student loan (except what I pay to my university for accommodation) into a secondary bank account, then have a standing order of the amount of money I can allow myself each week until I get my next payment. I find that this is the most efficient way for me to manage my money and that it helps the anxiety surrounding my money to be reduced. It is a great way of keeping organised and knowing that you will have the right amount from week to week and helps to take it off your mind!

Three piles of coins next to a calculator.

Living in halls

The biggest thing that I have found challenging at university is living in halls. Although the university has offered me accommodation for the duration of my course, I have decided to move into a privately rented property for both this summer and the rest of my course. This is because I have found that I can’t cope with sharing my space very well and I share different views to many ‘typical’ university students. If you need it, it’s important to find your own space, and know that other people have struggled too!

Extra-curricular activities

Something I have found really positive at university is how I have found it really easy to engage in extra-curricular activities despite the pandemic making everything virtual. If anything, I think that virtual events made them more accessible to me, as I really dislike people invading my personal space, too much noise or bright, flashing lights. Virtual events have worked in my favour this year. Since starting university in September, I have found that I loved getting myself involved in various activities and opportunities within the university. For me, I find that keeping busy is essential to keeping my mental health stable and this has turned out to be very beneficial for both my wellbeing and my CV! I really enjoy taking part in extra-curricular activities. I find that it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and success, which I have found to be very beneficial towards my wellbeing whilst being at university. Don’t be afraid to throw yourself in if there are activities accessible to you.

A laptop, phone, cup of coffee and notepad and pen on a wooden table.

Planning time

I have considered myself to be quite blessed in being an over-organised person. This is one of my super-autistic yet super-helpful traits. I need structure and planning to go through my weeks and I really struggle when things in my schedule change. This usually results in something going wrong and my whole week is thrown off. I do try and keep my weeks as consistent as possible to help myself, and this also means I am on time and can be productive in my lectures, meetings or other commitments.

I also have strict rules for myself. I have to have a certain amount of time per week to work on assignments and university-based work. This prevents me from getting burnt out over my other commitments and allows me to effectively manage my time. I also don’t allow myself to work over the weekends. This is also for the purpose of burn-out management. It means that I can do whatever I want over the weekend – I have no pressure and I can take the time to do what I want to do. This stops me from feeling like all I ever do is work, which I think is really important when you have the kind of workaholic nature which I do, where I can’t do anything except work in my spare time. Weekends are strictly for relaxing and doing anything other than work. I think that even if you aren’t autistic or disabled in any way, making time to do what you want to do, especially if you have a super busy week schedule, is so important and helps to keep your mental wellbeing intact.

A whiteboard with a weekly planner written on it. There are many post-it notes laid out for each week.

Being at university, even as an autistic student, has greatly benefitted my mental health, self-esteem and confidence. In my first year, my ability to do well academically has been proven. I have proven to myself and other people that I am capable of doing things that I never thought I’d be able to do. After this short year, I feel like my prospects for the future are better than I ever thought they would be.

Being an autistic student can be such a positive experience. I have found going to university to be so empowering. I personally have felt that it has made me feel like I have direction in life and that I can make myself useful. It makes me feel like I can accomplish my goals and that all the things I want to do in life aren’t just pipe dreams. Although there will likely always be things that I can’t do, I really do like to focus on the things I can do, things I have done and things I know I can work towards being able to do.

You can access support at university through Student Services.