Hometown: Batavia, Ohio
University/Program: Studying Media Arts and Animation at the Art Institute of Ohio-Cincinnati, studying Media Arts and Animation
Autism Symptoms: Echolalia, stimming, routine dependence
To whom did you choose to disclose your ASD, and why? How was that experience for you?
Since 9th grade onward, I normally disclose my autism to teachers to help them avoid mistaking some my behaviors for disobedience, but throughout all three years of college, I’ve been open about my autism and have seen mixed results. For me, I think it was necessary to be open about it either way, as I want to be a positive representation of disabilities in my career and a huge part of that has to do with my autism. My disclosure has led to both positive results (such as being able to get accommodations like extended deadlines) and negative results (like being treated badly when I did not understand instructions as provided). This was completely dependent on the teacher/employer. For example, my first boss and one of my main animation teachers made an effort to understand and help me as best they could, so I enjoyed our time together very much. I plan to continue being open about my autism as I move onto an actual career. It does come with the risk of being discriminated against, so recommend being very careful and to think hard about who you want to know and who you trust, since it does affect your college experience.
What, if any, academic services and resources do you utilize?
I did not ask for any formal academic services or accommodations from the Art Institute because I didn’t really need any. I simply asked people to keep my diagnosis in mind and to let me draw during lecture time, which was not a big issue seeing as I went to an art school. During my last year, I did ask for an extended deadline due to problems with fatigue, but this was discussed separately with different teachers rather than with my counselor. If you are in need of accommodations, I would definitely recommend speaking to professors and counselors you trust about making accommodations or compromises that you need.
Outside of academic services, what other kinds of supports are important for you in college, and why?
Friends and family were my main source of support, especially when my family encouraged me to return home instead of “toughing out” an unpleasant living situation on campus. My friends looked out for me in social situations and helped me keep my routine when I could not, such as getting me food when I was working/in class and providing transportation. My friends and I also tended to talk out social problems and be honest about anything troubling in our relationships.
What have been your biggest challenges in college, and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenges in college were the workload and the differences in thinking between teachers/peers and myself. It wasn’t something I could “overcome”, as you cannot change the way a person thinks fundamentally, but I did try to be as clear as possible when I didn’t understand something such as an instruction or a concept, and tried my best to separate my workload into manageable chunks that would be easy to do before the deadline. This got harder to do towards my last year but at this point I had a reputation for meeting deadlines, so getting extensions was something I could ask for when I really needed them.
What has been the best part of college for you?
For me, the best part of college was finally getting a formal art education, learning my way around actual art programs, and learning how to tell my stories effectively and professionally, especially with my career goal of being a positive representation of those with disabilities.
What has been the most important new skill/habit you’ve developed in college?
The most important skill I learned in college was to survive day by day. The experience itself was hard on me and I never fully adjusted, but learning to take each day separately in terms of positive and negative events helped put a bad day behind me and look at the next as a blank slate, especially in a situation where the negative aspects wouldn’t be solved for a while.
What do you wish you knew before coming to college?
I wish I had known not to expect to form long-lasting relationships/familial bonds, because in college, the environment is not one where friendships easily last or fall into neat categories. It’s best to go in assuming one might go in any direction instead of betting on becoming close.
How do you cope with academic stress?
I coped with academic stress by trying to do assignments in chunks and preparing mentally to do the assignment, “planning” it in my head, until I could get to a point where I could work on it. This works the best with art assignments because of how you can “plan” to do them mentally, but it also worked for academic papers and with organizing assignments. I also tended to play videos/music in the background while doing work that I could zone out to, or work with friends that support me and keep me motivated.
How do you keep track of classes and assignments in college?
My school tended to hand out schedules with the class name, number, and time schedule on it to students during the beginning of the quarter, so I would keep that and any other paperwork on hand to make a schedule until I memorized it. If I needed new paperwork or I didn’t get a sheet, the school website usually provided a copy of my full class schedule. At first I also used a planner for classwork, but found that for me personally, e-mailing myself with a list of assignments and resending the email periodically to remind myself to do them until the deadline worked best. Each time I completed a task, I would resend the new list to myself in a new e-mail to keep everything organized.
How do you maintain a comfortable routine in your daily college life?
It always took a week or two to get used to a new class schedule every semester, but trying to make sure you’re in the same place every day helps stake “claim” to that place as yours. This helps with building different points in your day to begin developing a routine. For example, in the mornings I would go to a specific empty classroom and stay there until class began. Then, I would go to lunch at a specific eatery until work. I would sit in the same place at work until it was time to go home. This helps cement the places as “your spot” and also gives you a reference point for where you’re “supposed” to be at a certain time.
Campus Life & Relationships
Are you living on campus? How did you choose your housing arrangement?
I lived on campus during my first year of school when I felt ready to live on my own, but the roommate experience I had wasn’t pleasant, so I moved back home to complete my education from there for the remaining two years. My advice would be that unless you’ve prepared beforehand with choosing and getting to know roommates and learning how to live on your own that you do not add to your stress by attempting to live away from home while also going to college. College will be a completely different environment compared to previous schooling, and combining that with the stress of new social dynamics with unfamiliar people is likely to make it a more challenging adjustment. However, if you are not in a position to go to college from home or to meet your roommates beforehand (as was the case with my roommates), I would suggest getting together the very first day you move in to frankly discuss what your needs, concerns, and pet peeves are. That way, you can try to avoid forming any social habits that make some people uncomfortable.
What is it like for you to live with roommate(s)?
It was very stressful, as learning the living style and personalities of three completely new people in a different social environment is inherently difficult. Although we established some ground rules for chores and groceries, it was hard to make compromises with three conflicting personalities. Unless it’s a situation where you need a set number of roommates in order to live in an apartment/dorm (as was the case with my college), I would suggest having one roommate until you feel ready for more. More people brings more complications and differing lifestyles into the mix, and for starting out in a new place and social environment, it would be best for adjustment’s sake to have one person to work with. If you are stuck with three other roommates or more, I would suggest getting together beforehand and regularly to frankly discuss necessities and routines.
What has your experience been like with social events and college parties?
I usually went to small outings with close friends and did not attend many college events or parties. The ones I did were usually obnoxious and loud, so I would end up leaving early to spend quiet time with friends instead. It might be worth it to go to one if you are with close friends who can help you through the experience, but even so, it’s not worth it if you aren’t having fun. Spending your valuable time doing things you consider to be fun is much better for your overall college experience.
How have the relationships you’ve developed on campus impacted your college experience?
The friends I ended up making on campus helped keep me safe, happy, mentally calm and stable, all while keeping me motivated and on track with schoolwork. I had one or two close friends and many acquaintances, so don’t worry if you don’t have a large group of friends, as what will matter the most at the end of your experience will be the friends that you were close with and could count on to accept you for you.
Where do you find peace and comfort on campus, and why?
The student lounge was usually loud and full of rowdy students, so I would retreat to the interview rooms that were much quieter and usually empty after school hours. Empty, unscheduled classrooms were also free for students to use, so I took advantage of those to both study and recharge. It’s a good idea to learn what places around campus are usually free and uncrowded. They make great safe spaces for yourself for when you need time alone or when you are going to have a meltdown.
For students with ASD, how do you think attending a large university compares to attending a smaller one?
A smaller university definitely had its pros and cons, the pros being less noise, less people and congestion, more personalized staff encounters, and less likelihood for confusion to happen in the administrative system when it comes to your needs. A downside is that a smaller group of people means more of a likelihood to see and work with people you dislike, limited space to claim as your own, and the feeling of being trapped if you do not like small or confined spaces. In my experience, even with the negative aspects, it was better for me in all respects, as a larger university and staff would have been too overwhelming to deal with on a personal scale.
What advice do you have for incoming college students with ASD?
- Don’t be ashamed to be autistic! During my last year, I was more open about stimming, took small plushies and comfort items with me to school, and openly talked my autism and related experiences to help other students write neurodivergent traits. It made me happier and freer to be myself in an environment that was overwhelmingly allistic.
- Try to form routines that you can keep throughout the quarter so that you feel more comfortable when faced with unexpected changes—and don’t be afraid to defend those routines if they help you function to the best of your ability.
- Ask questions, and clear up miscommunications and misunderstandings among teachers and friends. Even if they make fun of you when explaining some things, you learn to understand social situations better and that what’s expected of you is ultimately more important and will help you more than if you try to “figure it out” as you go.
- If you don’t want to be open about being autistic that’s okay too, because sometimes it’s not the best option for the environment, but that doesn’t make you any less autistic or needing of accommodations. Whether you want to be open about your autism or not, take care of yourself and be proud of who you are!