Continuing our occasional theme of listening to the advice of college students who have “been there and done that,” please join me in listening to recommendations provided by four graduates of Marshall University.
Bradley, Nathan, Stephen, and Brian, each 2013 graduates of the university, responded to questions about personal goals, their experience with support programs, what they liked about campus, etc. But it is the final question I’d like to focus on for this essay.
What advice would you give the freshman “you,” if you could talk with your younger self prior to entering college?
Many school students carrying the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome exhibit challenges in the area of social interactions and social skills. These social difficulties are worrisome for parents and family members who look for supports to address these challenges. Struggles in the school setting often center on their child’s inability to “fit in” with other students or an inability to grasp social expectations from their teachers and peers. Additionally, their child’s feelings of high anxiety and stress can make the learning environment challenging for them and the people around.
Over time, I’ve listened to concerns from parents and teachers regarding a student’s lack of understanding when it comes to social situations in the classroom environment. This often leads to isolation and the need for behavior support.
There is information in the literature that suggests both adult and peer mediated techniques to teach and build social skills in children with autism.
Q: “Many people see children with Asperger’s and they don’t understand that their needs are lifelong. They don’t see that even if you watch your child succeed at a young age, there will be new territory to navigate as they get older and new situations arise.” This is so true, my son was diagnosed with Aspergers in the 90’s when there was not a lot of “buzz” about it. He did okay, but now as an adult he seems to be having difficulty especially with anxiety and confidence. I am worried for him, and keep directing him towards counseling, but he hasn’t yet. Any suggestions?
I can completely relate to this. Near the end of my high school days, I garnered several accomplishments and awards, but college was a completely different ballgame, especially since I was four hours away from home. Once I got out of college and moved back home, the working world was a completely different situation as well, and I struggled mightily at times. Each new job, new relationship, and new situation is a challenge, but an opportunity as well. Fortunately, my family could not have been more supportive of me over the years.
I will start by outlining what NOT to do. I think this is best said coming from someone that has lived through a meltdown with neurological implications. The following is an excerpt from a message from Mr. John Scott.
Having lived in several different cities, I can attest that it most certainly is not a regional thing: you’ll run into idiot drivers no matter where you live. It isn’t profound at all; many casual conversations begin with a gripe about traffic on the way to someplace or another, or end up there eventually. Driving is a serious source of stress for many, even under the best circumstances. And for people diagnosed with Autism, they are already functioning under decidedly less than the best of circumstances, and the idea of getting behind the wheel can cause anxiety.
I found that I did not have a great deal of difficulty behind the wheel. Having a nice, large, rarely-traveled stretch of land to practice on, and taking as many opportunities to practice, is the first thing I recommend for those who are diagnosed and want to drive. It certainly helped me. After enough practice, it became second-nature.
Contrary to the assumption that driving is the natural enemy of the Autistic because it demands multi-tasking, it really isn’t so difficult as all that. It has a nice and structured set of regulations, and your task is simple: start at one location, and control the vehicle in order to safely reach the next. Anyone who has ever played a game, whether analog or digital, can tell you that while rules and setup are intimidating at first, once you see how it’s done and try it for yourself, it isn’t as hard as all that.
To the Autistic person who wants to learn to drive but feels rather intimidated, just think of it as a video game.
The best advice one can receive about effective support for college students diagnosed with ASD comes from, of course, students themselves. Kristopher Kirk graduated from Marshall University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering (with an emphasis in Civil Engineering) in early December, 2014. At a university-sponsored Parent Weekend event, Kristopher – who has received supports from MU’s college support program during his four years at the school – provided these insights about his college experience.
Kristopher advises college students living on the spectrum:
Many college students with Asperger’s need assistance with writing assignments. Whether it is for a writing intensive course or for an essay in a basic undergraduate class, the following often occurs:
- Students write too little. Students often presume professors will infer from their most basic of communications what the student intends and, as a result, leave out details.
- These details, of course, are what professors want to read.
- Students write too much. Students are sometimes uncertain what professors want to read and end up throwing everything – including the kitchen sink – into the document. This especially happens when students are writing about a topic that has personal interest to them.
- Students with Asperger’s Disorder sometimes cannot predict what professors want to read in a writing assignment. This creates difficulties with emotional regulation, during which students may avoid the assignment or have an emotional meltdown.
Students can more easily complete writing assignments when provided clear instructions about the structure of an assignment and relevant examples. A template is often helpful. The following is such a template, used to help a student assigned with writing a paper for a History class.
Please note: The examples provided were not related to the assignment. They were merely examples.
Although we have addressed the topic of meltdowns previously, it is a topic that needs to be revisited often, given the intense nature of the meltdown. “People with autism, new research suggests, may have an unusually large and overactive amygdala. This may be one reason why people with autism are easily overstimulated and have a hard time understanding and managing emotions.” – University of Washington
This is one of many neurological findings that helps to explain how meltdowns are very different from tantrums. They originate from a neurological place of sensory differences: an over-abundance of neuronal pathways. The brain, whether through too much sensory input, cascading thoughts, chemical overload or some cumulative effect of all of these, gets overwhelmed!
I know individuals with autism can help understand the horror of the meltdown better than any observer. So I would like to refer to Carly Fleischmann for her unique perspective. The following is an excerpt from her website:
Colleague and friend Andrew Nelson, a coordinator in the West Virginia Autism Training Center’s Family Focus Positive Behavior Support program, supports individuals with ASD in their transition to college as part of his day-to-day duties. In his work, Andrew began to notice similar questions and issues were being raised by various students. Many of the questions were about basic procedures of higher education, such as how one applies to and gets into a university. Other questions – like “Do I have to do my own laundry?” – were about campus living.
To help answer these questions, Andrew went straight to the experts: college students on the spectrum!
In his video interview with three Marshall University students, Andrew explores in brief the topics of: college admission, financial aid, effective support strategies, independent living, and the importance of building on-campus relationships.
All in under 6 minutes!