Reflections About College

By Caitlin Medlar

Beginning college is a big step for most kids, and can be even tougher for young people with Asperger’s. If you choose to live on-campus, it means leaving your family and your home and moving into a dorm room with one or more total strangers. College students don’t have to take nearly as many classes as high school students, but the workload is still pretty heavy. Even so, if you play your cards right, college can be fun.

The most serious problem I had starting college was dealing with my roommates. During my first semester, my three roommates thought I was a total weirdo because of my strong interest in the Lord of the Rings. I guess they just couldn’t get it into their heads that we don’t all have to be preppy, stuck-up fashionistas. I couldn’t stand that they left the lights on when I was trying to sleep, or that they had boys in the room almost all the time. And not just regular boys; their guy friends were really immature. You probably know the type.

Luckily, I had already dealt with childish boys before, and I knew that immature guys should just be ignored, unless their irresponsible behavior turns to harassment. If anything they do makes you feel awkward and uncomfortable, you should report it to someone with authority, like a teacher or, in a college situation, the hall staff. Also, remember that there are still nice boys out there, and that even jerks can get more mature as they get older.

I didn’t disclose my AS to my roommates; I figured it wasn’t worth it to swap being stereotyped as a weirdo for being stereotyped as a SPED kid. When another girl who liked to hang out with my roommates asked me if I wanted to switch rooms with her, I jumped at the chance. For the rest of the year, I lived in a dorm room with a girl whose home was really close to the campus, so she was out of our room a lot. That suited me fine because I like to have a little alone time. I didn’t disclose to her either because she and I just didn’t talk much. We let each other do our own thing.

Making friends on campus can take time, but it’s totally worth it. If you want to make friends, I think the best thing to do is join a school club. I joined my college’s Christian Fellowship early in the year, and I’ve made quite a few friends through that. I also got to know a few people by being involved in a play that the school’s theatre department put on. Clubs are good friend-making places for people with Asperger’s because everyone there shares a common interest, and because the club meets regularly at a specific time and place.

Learning strategies for making friends and socializing is key for anyone with AS, but being supported by your surroundings is really important also. School special education programs are good if you need a little extra help, but family is also an excellent support. The best thing parents can do for their kid with AS is to learn about AS by reading books about it or attending presentations like this one. I was diagnosed with AS when I was seven, and once the people around me started learning about my differences, my life became a lot easier. When the time came to start looking at colleges, I made sure to put some schools with good special education programs on my list, which is why I ended up going to Westfield State College. The most important advice I can give to kids about choosing a college is: pick a favorite school, but remember that almost nobody ends up going to his or her first choice for a college. If you know a kid who ended up disappointed by the school search, the best thing you can do is give sympathy rather than give advice.

Transitioning to college has its ups and downs, just like everything else. Even if you end up with the Roommate from the Black Lagoon, or if one of your professor’s lectures put you to sleep faster than knockout drops, there’s always a way to smooth over the rough spots and enjoy your time at school. And I certainly couldn’t have made that transition without the years of experience that led up to it. Almost a year ago, at my college orientation, some professor told me that my four years of college were going to be the best years of my life. I still have three years to figure out if she was right or not. Now I’m going to tell you something similar–the years of your life that you’re in now are going to be among the best. You have the opportunity now to discover who you are. Enjoy it.

Note from AANE Staff: Parents should be aware that even if a college has AS-savvy disability officers, you should not assume that your student will access their services. College students are expected to take the initiative to seek out the help they need. You may need to expend energy and ingenuity to persuade your young adult son or daughter to go to the disabilities office, academic advisor, or other support staff.