Senior Year: Seven Steps Autistic Students Should Take to Prepare for College

Hey! Congratulations, you did it! You are officially enrolled in a certificate course, community college, or four-year institution, and you’re nervous and excited for the future—just like all of the other new students. As you wrap up your senior year and look ahead to the fall semester, here are a few steps that you can take to help reduce uncertainty and anxiety.

Senior Year

Take a campus tour: Visit the campus and practice finding key locations, like classroom buildings, the library, cafeteria, and Disability Services Office. You might visit again during the summer, but it’s a good idea to go at least once when classes are in session, so you’ll know what it feels like when it’s busy with students, faculty, and staff.

Talk with your parents about FERPA: In high school, your parents may have taken an active role in your academic life, staying in touch with your teachers and counselors via regular calls, emails, or meetings. In college, that changes, both because it’s a natural time for you to take on more independence, and because a federal privacy law called Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) means your academic record is sealed, unless you sign a waiver giving your parents access (and, waiving FERPA is not an option at all colleges, so be sure to investigate your college’s policy well in advance of starting classes). Talk with your parents about what role they may be taking in your college academic life and consider whether you will choose to give them access to your academic records.

The Summer Before College Starts

Practice getting to campus: Especially if you’ll be taking public transportation, it helps to do a few dry runs. If you haven’t done it on your own before, practice using a fare card or ticket. Figure out how long it will take you to get from your door to class—one less thing to be anxious about on your first day.

Don’t make any big changes: “The summer before college is not a time to go off any medications,” says Lorraine Wolf, Director of Disability Services at Boston University. “It’s a ‘stay the course’ time.” Make a plan to reevaluate at the end of the semester, when you have had a chance to adjust to college life.

Look into student activities: If you’re hoping to get involved in on-campus activities, do some research before classes start. Consider emailing the students, staff, or faculty who lead clubs or organizations you’re most interested in. It will make showing up to that first meeting just a little bit easier.

The Week Before Class Starts

Practice finding your classrooms: Don’t stop your campus tour at the door of the classroom building. Head inside and find every classroom, recommends Theresa Revans-McMenimon, a Counselor/Specialist for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders at Westchester Community College in New York and an STS Editorial Board Member. It will minimize first-day jitters and will also set you up to get to class comfortably early so that you can get a good seat. And even though you might feel the gravitational pull of the seats in the way, way back, Revans-McMenimon suggests grabbing a spot right in front. “You’re more likely to participate when you’re in front of the room,” she says, and it will actually make the class seem smaller, since you won’t be staring at the backs of 30—or 300—heads.

Remember that anxiety is normal—for everyone: Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it’s common to feel overwhelmed, lonely, or intimidated by the early days of college. Remind yourself that, despite appearances, your classmates probably have their own anxieties—and that there will be people on campus to help you find your way.

Taking these steps will help you feel confident and in control of your experience. If these suggestions are a few steps ahead of where you are at the moment, no sweat. Be sure to check out our companion post for things to do to prepare for this transition starting in your junior year, as well as contributor Thad Campbell’s interview with social worker Matthew Morse here.

Are you going through the process of preparing for college right now? What additional steps are you taking? What are some of the other helpful tips you’ve heard? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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Kate Becker is a science writer in Brookline, Massachusetts. She studied physics and astronomy and was previously senior researcher for the science documentary series NOVA. Contact her at http://www.spacecrafty.com/

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