Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurological disorder with a range of conditions characterized by challenges with speech communication, non-verbal communication, social skills, and repetitive behaviors. The word “spectrum” refers to a wide range of differences, challenges, and strength each person with autism has. Studies show that 1 in 88 children will develop autism, and it is the fastest growing disability nationwide. With this statistic, it is important for school officials, doctors, counselor, parents or anyone to fully understand the overall needs of children with autism. Adults with autism make up about 1.7% of the college population with an 80% incompletion rate. The main reason for these numbers is that most colleges, unfortunately, do not understand how to accommodate the needs of students on the spectrum.
Challenges facing those with Autism:
- Organization problems: College students on the mild end of the spectrum may tend to misunderstand social and communication cues. When it comes to a student with Autism either living independently or with family, can struggle because it more responsibilities all at once can cause an overload. The duties of managing homework, job, independent living, maintain health, meetups for group projects can all be overwhelming with trying to plan and organize it.
- Self-Advocacy: The main shocker for high school to college transition is that it is up to you to convey your needs. In grade school, you parent, teachers, and counselors decided and advocated your educational needs. Once the child becomes a teenager (high school age), they are allowed to sit in their IEP (Individualized Educational Plan), but they do not fully understand their accommodations. Most colleges do not require IEP’S, but they do require the students to understand and advocate for their needs.
- Being Overwhelmed: Those with autism have many challenges on a daily basis. Individuals with autism have a higher chance of accumulating many responsibilities, without understanding the demands. Some do very well in an educational setting, but they lack the emotional stability with being away from and competing in college.
- Invisible: Since having a student with autism in a college class is very rare, it is easy for them to be invisible to the instructor. College is geared more towards extroverts and professors remember those students more. Most individuals with autism are introverts and unfortunately, in a college setting especially with large lecture class, the professor is unaware of their existence. Students with autism in college are view as regular students with a note given to them, by their student disability services. The student has to physically carry them their accommodation note and talk to them one on one about their needs for the class.
- Learning issues: Students on the spectrum have a learning style that the traditional college setting does not understand. The college learning atmosphere is based on lecture and verbal participation (discussion). Most of the learning styles in college is a struggle for students with autism especially if it is their first semester. Individuals with autism thrive when it comes to visual aide, and not many college or universities offers this style of learning. College students with disabilities have a long time trying to digest the concept. While teachers will rely on non-disability students to determine how the class is doing as far on understanding the material, sadly we with disabilities in college are ignored.
- Transitioning difficulties: After high school graduation, all educational and support services people with autism receive since they were young age stops. Before high school graduation, your parent, doctor, teachers find risk signs, diagnosis, provide accommodation, monitor progress and advocate your needs. In college, it is solely up to you to advocate your educational needs to professors. The law requires that colleges and universities to provide accommodations to students who are eligible for services. People with disabilities in college are expected to follow the same academic standards as regular students, with approved accommodations. Accommodations may include access to instructor’s notes, taking an exam in a quiet area, extra time on assignments or more. You have to be own self-advocate in an environment that is not geared towards specializing in helping students with disabilities secede.
ALWAYS be proud of you, and your autism– You are unique and special in your way, so be proud of yourself. Individuals with autism are one of the most humble and genuine people on this earth, and a joy to be around.
How I overcome obstacles and steps how you can as well:
- Understand your needs and accept responsibility– You are the captain of your ship, it’s up to you to stir the ship in the direction you want to go. Before you can stir the ship, you must learn how to stir. As an individual with autism, you must understand autism and your needs. To become wise you must gain knowledge before you gain knowledge, you must first acquire understanding. Everyone person with autism is different, and your needs differ from other on the spectrum. You must first ponder over your strengths or things you do very well. After identifying those strengths, find ways to make you better in that area. Then you want to look at your challenges, do not be down on yourself, you can only go up from here, it’s just the begin. Next, find a career or a college that you can thrive based on your strengths and that you can receive help to overcome your challenges. After understanding you as a person overall, you must accept responsibility for your success as a person with autism. You will have people in your corner to help you, but it’s up to you to meet the academic expectations of everyone else. Use your resources, understand yourself, do your best and do not stress. There will be dark days, but there is always a brighter day the next day, look to the future.
- Find resources/support group (seek help) – Before going to a university, make sure they have a disability services center on their campus. Meet with your advisor and ask them about who is the coordinator or contact person for disability services on campus. Once you are in contact with that person, plan a meeting to where you can explain your needs, and they can inform you of the resources they have. Most college campuses have accommodations such as extra time on assignments, access to instructors notes, taking an exam in a quiet area, to name a few. Remember you are paying for these resources in your tuition; you have every right to use it. Colleges and university are mandated under law to accommodate students with a disability, and you have the right to those accommodations. However, with these resources, you must understand how to use them, and abide by the same educational standards as all students. You are not alone, you have people at that school that you may not know yet, but they are rooting for you. These people will be there to support you whether the disability services team, parents, teachers, tutors, counselors, or other students or anyone. Get to know these people and stay in contact, they will be the ones to guide you and help you along the way. As a student with autism, you must have a trusted circle of support and know what your resources and how to use them.
- Meditate to yourself– Always make time to detox from everything and restore oneself. Find a quiet place where you can relax an clear you’re mid from everything in silence. Listen to some jazz or any relaxing music, watch your favorite comedian, or read a funny comic, anything to help you relax. Doing this will help you to reduce sensory overloaded and stress as a college student. You are an intelligent person and go through allot day by day, so relax and give yourself time to recoup from a long day.
- Set small goals/ Celebrate your accomplishments– Before accomplishing big task, you must first master the small steps on how to get there. Imagine you build a house out of Legos, to create a house; you must gather all the Lego pieces to make the house. Then you stack each Lego piece one by one until you build your Lego house. Same with anything else, if you want to do anything significant, you must start small. All successful people whether celebrities or everyday people started small and the work towards more significant things. Set small goals will help you navigate through college better than starting with something complex. One thing I did was set one small goal for a week, for example, my goal was to meet with my all my teachers one each day to discuss my needs. You can do one goal a day or week, but start small, and add more as you progress. Once you accomplish your goal no matter how small or significant, with something rewarding. You earned in it so treat yourself to something good, remember being in college, overcoming obstacles, despite having autism is an inspiration and is worthy of praise.
- ALWAYS be proud of you, and your autism– You are unique and special in your way, so be proud of yourself. Individuals with autism are one of the most humble and genuine people on this earth, and a joy to be around. People with autism in the college setting strive, graduate, earn post-graduate degrees, have amazing careers that no one would ever imagine. Believe in yourself and always be around those who are positive and want to see you prosper. Look back on all the years from birth to know, having autism, overcoming challenges, and achieving your dreams is impressive. You are an excellent person and deserve a standing ovation for the person you are today despite having autism. You are a wonderful and inspiring person not only to the autism community but also to yourself and everyone else. Do not compare or let anyone tell you anything else.
I will be the first in my family to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice, Public Administration with a minor in Civic Engagement. I recommend those on the spectrum to first attend a community college and then transfer to a four-year university. At a community college, there are smaller class sizes, more one on one interaction with teachers, fewer distractions and more time to help each student succeed. I plan to earn a postgraduate degree in psychology to understand the needs and mental mindset of individuals with disabilities. Then I will use my degrees and experience to inspire those on the spectrum or young kids to achieve their dreams and not to let anyone stop you from becoming the greatest you.By: Maverick L Crawford III
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NOTE: Maverick Crawford III is currently obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice, Public Administration with a minor in Civic Engagement. He then plans to earn a postgraduate degree in psychology to understand the needs and mental mindset of individuals with disabilities. The goal is to help and inspire those on the spectrum or young kids to achieve their dreams and to not to let anyone stop them from becoming the greatest version they can be.
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