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Dear Person With Autism Who Is Starting College

Whit Downing
Whit's poster full of supportive thoughts for getting through college.

Dear You,

First, I want to tell you how proud I am of you for making the decision to go to college. I know that after high school, even the mere thought of pursuing a higher-level education can be extremely intimidating.

I am autistic and just finished my second semester of college. To sum up my thoughts about my experience thus far, I’d say this: “It has not been easy, but it has, without a doubt, been worth it.”

Most college classes are set to begin within the next month August. If you are anything like me and so many others, I am sure you are feeling rather afraid right now. Especially those of you who are starting your first semester. I have good news for you. In my experience, as each semester passes, it does get easier.

I am not sure what others have told you, or what you’ve told yourself, but you can do hard things. I mean that. You have a purpose in this world, and you deserve the opportunity to follow your dreams and passions, no matter your diagnosis. Every thought that is telling you that you are not good enough to go to college, or that it will be too much for you, is lying.

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As people with autism, we have specific struggles a neurotypical student may not have to face. You have individual struggles even I may not have to face. You know what they say, “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” We are all unique, and furthermore, there are unique accommodations that can be made for you to ensure you are able to be the best you that you can be! Accommodations remove the barriers and challenges our autism can create. In no way do they change what we are learning. Instead, they change how we are learning.

Like a lot of people with autism, I struggle with social interaction — especially interactions that are fast paced and involve people with whom I am not familiar. In addition to my struggles with social interaction, I am easily overwhelmed by too much noise. I often experience sensory overload, and when that happens, it makes it hard for me to focus in the classroom. I am an extremely literal thinker, and I can do my best work when directions are given to me in a clear and direct way.

Related:Learning to Truly Listen to My Son on the Autism Spectrum

The accommodations I have play a big role in my college success. I take all exams in a testing room by myself, so I do not have to worry about distractions. My professors email me any group work or discussion topics prior to class, which helps ease my nerves and gives me the opportunity to prepare myself for class. To help me participate in class, I write down any questions or comments before class, so I can participate once class starts. Finally, I have a need for repetitiveness. In an environment where things are frequently changing, repetitive behaviors help me stay calm and focused. I take my Rubik’s Cubes to my classes and often quietly twist and turn them.

A professor I had during my first semester of college has been a fundamental part of my growth and success. She believes in me and she empowers me to use my voice. Her name is Ms. April. Before college, I was not used to advocating for myself, and I was not used to meeting with instructors to talk about my needs. Ms. April frequently reminds me that I have good thoughts, but no one will know them unless I express myself. When I am feeling scared or like I cannot do college anymore, Ms. April reminds me of how capable I truly am, and of all the successes I have had thus far. Everyone needs a Ms. April in their lives.

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When you start college, I would like to encourage you to be open and honest with your professors. Tell them about your struggles and what they can do to help you be successful in their class.

I will end with a quote I really like: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think. When you feel like quitting, think about why you started.”

You can do this!

Sincerely,

Someone who understands

Read more stories like this on The Mighty:

To the New Teacher of My Daughter on the Autism Spectrum

Learning to Say 'No' as the Parent of a Child With a Disability

Why I Believe Autistic Kids Should Attend Their Own IEP Meetings