College and Mental Health: An Interview with Nyla Cooper
September 19, 2023
OAR interviewed Nyla Cooper, a 2022 Synchrony Family Scholarship winner, and member of OAR’s Scholars’ Society, about the impact of mental health on her college experience.
Nyla is a junior in the ARTs Foundation, majoring in Communication Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University, who is passionate about the arts. Art has aided her through her struggles with ASD, and she finds it to be healing, and she hopes to open a healing art gallery one day.
The Scholars’ Society offers long-term engagement and support for students who have received awards through the Schwallie Family Scholarship, Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship, Synchrony Scholarship for Autistic Students of Color, and Synchrony Tech Scholarship.
We interview our scholars to share the lived experience of autism in college and provide guidance to parents, caregivers, and educators.
OAR: As an autistic student, what are some of the most significant adjustments or stressors you faced in college, and how have you navigated them?
Cooper: Speaking in front of people and giving presentations was very difficult for me. My professors knew of my accommodations and were supportive, however, I still presented because I wanted to try to overcome the anxiety I experienced. Being seen by people daily was a huge adjustment. I hated being on camera. Some professors didn’t mind the camera off, but others wanted to get to me.
OAR: How has understanding your own mental health helped within, and outside of your college
Cooper: I gathered that when I try to do a lot at once, it’s not helpful to me. I space out my assignment so that I can have time to understand and process what’s required. Also, I take breaks often so that I won’t get bored with what I’m learning.
OAR: How have your family or friends impacted your mental health positively or negatively while in college?
Cooper: My family’s support has been positively impactful while in college. My mom is my reminder button. I may sometimes forget to start but I do beat the deadlines.
OAR: Burnout is a common feeling for college students, but even more so for those who are autistic. How have you navigated or prevented the feelings of being overwhelmed or exhausted?
Cooper: I take my time. I ask for help from my professors if I don’t understand something. As I mentioned above, breaks help stay interested. I think having at least one person in your life who supports you helps. The only time I get overwhelmed is if I was called upon. That hasn’t happened yet, so no stress here.
OAR: Were there any hobbies or activities you enjoyed that helped you through your college
Cooper: Gaming, listening to music, and taking naps has helped me. Do something I love to do balances out with my studies. Can’t be all work and no play