Home Discussions Students Understanding and Using Resources How to succeed as an autistic college student in STEM

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    Jessica Murray

      Hi all,

      Posting this from a Facebook discussion. A student, who is currently enrolled in college and doing well, is seeking advice around how to be successful in a STEM college program as an autistic student. I know this is a big question!I’m hoping STS community members can give some good perspective based on your experiences and knowledge. Thanks!

      Laura Gilmour

        Based on my own experience (autistic student which a mixed science and social science background/currently PhD candidate in educational psychology)

        1) Before attending university, obtain necessary documentation and testing for accommodations (good to do in last year of high school)

        2) Visit the university disability resource center of the institutions you are considering. I find it is best when universities consider each students’ individual needs on a strength/needs basis and don’t go for one-size fits all accommodation programs. For instance I don’t fit the stereotype of “thinking in pictures” and visual diagrams confuse me/much prefer lists or audio directions.

        3) Email instructors prior to the start of classes and if possible meet with them in your office and discuss specific needs of how they can help you in the class. You don’t have to tell your whole medical history but a simple “I may not understand figures of speech, or I find it difficult to read cursive writing on the board, does this class use slides or overheads containing typed text?” may be helpful and will also allow you as a student to asses if the instructor/course is a good match for you and willing to accommodate. Sometimes another section of the same course is offered with an instructor whose style more so meets your needs and you can even switch sections first week of classes without penalty in many universities.

        4) Consider research or work experience in your topics of study/interest and ask instructors about both.

        5) Know that many young adults (and not just autistic ones) sometimes have to try a few programs to find the right fit and taking longer to finish a degree or switching programs…or taking time off to decide and gain experience outside of the academy is not a failure.

        6) Consider multiple ways you can use your education and versatile diplomas or degrees. For instance with my background in ed psych and autism research, with some cross-pollination work with individuals with a background in neuroscience I have considered the following post graduation options. All of these are very different options in some ways, but all serve the same goal of improving the quality of life of individuals on the spectrum across the lifespan:

        1) A post doc in psychopharmacology/looking at medications with potential to aide in sensory processing issues with predicted lower side effect profiles than atypical anti-psychotics
        2) Teaching distance education within educational psychology
        3) Creating something like STS within Canada and expanding it also to (K to 12 students)
        4) Opening a daycare/after-school care for neurodiverse children run by neurodiverse educators with teaching and psychology backgrounds
        5) Applying for a tenure-track job at a small university or community college or working in disability services (I know I do not want to work at a large university with a huge campus and classes with 100s of students/would not meet my sensory or perceptual needs).
        6) A mixture of an adjunct professorship and community-based research
        7) Developing workshops (like my dissertation work) to create inclusive communities in K-12 classrooms for individuals on the autism spectrum and running and promoting them.
        8) Professional speaking circuit/educating educators.

        Even if I leave academia, I know my career will always involve collaboration with K-12 teachers, university faculty, university administrators, levels of government, educational assistants, autistic individuals, and parents and carers for children and adults on the spectrum.

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