University With Autism

Hi! I’m going to university in September to do a BSc in geography and was wondering if anyone had any advice on university in general but also concerning making friends. 

  • I have a master in agricultural engineering. The biggest change for me was the level of freedom. Also every professor seems to think his subject is the most important and gives you lots of material to study. If you can get hold of example questions of previous year's exams, that's a great help. Student clubs usually have this information, it gives you a guidance on how to prepare, what to expect. 

    Friends are usually people that have lots in common with you. You'll see, there's going to be plenty of people like you. It's also typical that you get a bit of a concentration of the more serious students there. It's in everybody's interest to have a bit of a small circle of people you can ask question to, follow around so you don't have to look yourself where the next lesson takes place, go for lunch with. Try also to be a good partner of these people, share your notes, if you understand it and they ask you, explain it to them, 

    Try to go to all of the lectures, make sure you're well rested, go for a beer like once a week, but not every night.

    Start studying from day one, make it a habit.

  • My 4 year old was diagnosed with mild autism 3 months ago, I'm glad to know that he can still pursue a good academic journey in the future.

  • I got through 5 years of uni and diagnosed later. In the first 2 years I didn't talk to many people and lived a recluse. In the 3rd year I started to get to know more of the class and went for a few nights out. I do regret not doing more socially but I just didn't have the aptitude to get involved with things. I still keep in contact with one person from university but as I moved away from the city I don't really speak to many others I knew whilst I was there.

    Overall you are only there for a short time (for some people the degree is 3 years and classes are only 24 weeks of the year), so it's not super important to make friends but if you can then it should be easier for you both academically (people help you) and for your mental health

  • I'm an undergraduate who was diagnosed early this year and graduating next summer. By law your university will have to make reasonable adjustments for you, depending on your autistic needs. You should contact your university's disability advisory service; they'll have professionals who will discuss with you what adjustments you need (e.g. your own room during an exam).

    Other than that, you have little to worry about within university. From my experience in a large central London uni, there are lots of autistic people in academia, both staff and students. It's one of the places in which we congregate, though this will depend on the size and academic standing of your uni. People are always happy to hear each other talk about their obsessions and having these obsessions will help you land undergraduate research fellowships and other opportunities. Modules are highly specific and as you progress through your degree you'll meet people who tend to take the same modules as you and will hopefully have little trouble befriending them. Although there are different personalities people are mostly non-judgemental, and they're often more understanding if you make your needs known. Even if they're not autistic, they tend to be comfortable with autistic traits because our traits often become the expected behaviour of academic life. Communication is easier than in the outside NT-dominated world; tutors like e-mails that are short, direct and clear (and of course polite). When you turn up for office hours you can dive straight into the specific questions you have without small talk without it being awkward. Tutors are seldom loose with time. Meaning exactly what you say when it comes to time is often appreciated; tutors often dislike people turning up to an appointment early as much as they dislike them being late. Clubs and societies are specialised and interest-based, so no problems there for us. You don't have to attend the socials if you don't want to, though I normally don't mind attending them since I have interesting team-mates with whom I can hold a conversation. So overall, in terms of academic life and socialising with people from uni, autism isn't a detriment and is arguably advantageous.

    The problems start when you try engaging in social life with people outside uni, like church or volunteer groups, which you might be enticed to join as they advertise often for students to join them. I've had interpersonal disasters in such places and you'll get judged for your esoteric interests and conversation difficulties that aren't a problem within uni walls. I'd say if you find that you really can't handle the social minefield in such groups, don't feel bad about not being able to volunteer. There are many ways to help others without volunteering. People will make you feel bad but if you push yourself into it knowing it'll cause breakdowns it can make things worse. If you want to join a church or other such organisation outside uni, make sure you have an advocate in the same organisation who can explain things or stand up for you when you find yourself unfairly treated or misunderstood.