7 Tips on Transitioning to College for Students with Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, or Learning Disabilities
The move from high school to college can be tough for any student. There are so many new challenges, new people, and a whole new lifestyle to adapt to. But when you have Asperger’s syndrome, autism, or another learning disability like attention deficit disorder or dyslexia, the college admissions process, and the adaptation to college life, can be a full-blown nightmare. Here are a few ways to make the transition easier.
Make sure that you have formal documentation of your disability.
Without it, you won’t be entitled to any special services or accommodations, so be sure to get a written notice about your specific diagnosis from your doctor, psychiatrist, or another health professional.
Look for a college that is known for a great disability services program.
When applying to college, you’ll have more to consider than the average student. It will be important to ensure that any school you choose is willing to accommodate your specific needs, and can provide you with considerations like extra time on tests, counseling services, and special help adjusting to new social situations. To find some great schools that seem like a good fit, check out a learning disability-specific college guide, such as Peterson’s Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or AD/HD.
Take courses at a community college during high school or over the summer.
By taking college-level courses close to home, you’ll be able to begin adapting to the college lifestyle in a low-stress zone. Though the community college may be somewhat different to where you go to school, the experience should give you a good idea of what sort of accommodations you might need.
Consider staying close to home.
It’s not feasible for everyone, depending on where you live—but if there are numerous colleges within driving range, you might consider applying to the ones that fit you best. By staying nearby, you may be able to continue living at home, or, even if you’re in a dorm, your family is close by whenever you need their help.
After being accepted to a school, try to make connections before attending.
For anyone, but especially for students with autism and learning disabilities, it can be difficult to make new friends. Get a head start by seeking out current or future students from your school who are involved in some of your interests. For example, if you can’t wait to join the campus chess club, send an introductory email to the club president—maybe you can even participate in some games online before you meet them face-to-face! If you have an autism spectrum disorder, you can also join an online community for people with autism, such as wrongplanet.net, and find out if anyone there attends your future school. Facebook is also a great way to connect with your fellow classmates—just search for a group dedicated to your school year, and join the conversation.
Get acquainted with your school and professors before classes start.
The beginning of a new school year is a chaotic time, and it can be hard for autistic or learning disabled students to cope with such a hectic environment. You’ll do much better if you’re familiar with your surroundings, so when it’s time to go to your new school, arrange to get there a few days early. You may not be able to move into your dorm room yet, but you and your parents can wander around campus as you please, learning where all the classrooms and other buildings are, so that you’ll be prepared when classes start. If you can, schedule appointments with all of the professors that you’ll have for your first semester courses—this is a great opportunity to meet them and make them aware of your special needs.
Set up support systems in advance.
If you’re planning on attending school away from home, it will be essential to have a built-in support system, with people you can ask for help at any time. If you’re in a dorm, have a talk with your R.A. on the first day of class to let him know about any issues you may have adjusting to campus life, and he’ll do his best to make sure you receive as much assistance as you need. If you still need additional help, there are several nation-wide programs available specifically for students with autism and other learning disabilities: consider using a service like AHEADD, which provides specialized tutoring and social help for students on the autism spectrum.