autism mental health college
Theresa Revans-McMenimon

By Theresa Revans-McMenimon,
M.S., L.M.F.T., L.M.H.C.

So you have graduated high school and are ready to begin college. Do you feel ready? Confident? Anxious? Excited? Scared? Ready to say good-bye to being “managed” and ready to say hello to “independence.” To be successful at this “adulting thing.” If you don’t feel ready, that’s o.k. “Not now” doesn’t mean not ever! No one is truly ready. Becoming an adult is a process. It is not something that happens overnight because you graduated or because you turned 18.

You probably have many questions like: “how will I make friends, will there be other students ‘like me,’ and what do I do if I need help and become overwhelmed?” Or maybe you’re thinking, “My mom always reminded me of my homework assignments, how will I manage this now?” or “All this and I keep getting asked what I want to study and major in?” This can really feel overwhelming.

The best piece of advice I can give you is to slow down.

College is about expanding your world and support network, increasing your self-reliance, and exposing yourself to new and different ideas.

Before the semester begins, visit the campus and become familiar with the various offices that can assist you. Visit the Disability Services Office (DSO) to discuss your accommodations. Learn how the college can assist you with your success. Bring a copy of your disability documentation and be prepared to discuss the services you need and that are available. This would be a good time to ask about assistive technology, extended time policy, and basic policy and procedures to receiving your accommodations while in college. Up until this point, your accommodations have been protected under IDEA. As an adult, you are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In order to protect you, this law will require you to disclose that you have a disability. This is one of the first adult decisions you will have to make—“What do I disclose and who do I disclose it to?” The DSO can assist you with this decision.

Next up, visit the Counseling Center. Learn if the college has personal counselors available. Starting college is exciting, but you may also be feeling some trepidation. That is to be expected. New experiences can make us nervous, but if you are distracted and having a difficult time focusing, then ask for help. A personal counselor is someone you can speak to if you are feeling overwhelmed or struggling with an emotional issue. If you are already engaged with a private therapist, find out how the personal counselor on campus can work together with you and your private therapist. You will need to find out their availability for individual meetings, if support groups are offered, and if any fees are incurred. If you are feeling overwhelmed or are struggling with a personal decision, this is the place to go to talk it over. Counselors are part of your expanding support network.

Academic Support. Most colleges offer academic support, which can be in the form of tutoring or workshops. Find out where the Academic Support Center is located and what their hours of operation are. You may have performed well academically in high school and never needed tutoring, but college coursework is different. Much of the work is independent of the classroom and requires more time management skills. Some support centers offer workshops on time management and study skills. They can help you to learn techniques to stay on track with your work. One great time management technique is to use your cell phone to program reminders and due dates. There will be times when you are receiving grades you did not expect. This can feel devastating, but poor grades will happen. You are adjusting to different teaching styles and coursework assignments. The academic support that you can receive at college is invaluable and can help with your adjustment to these varying styles.

College is more than just about academics, though. It is about having fun and making new friends and memories. Joining clubs and activities on campus is a great way to start this process. Your student involvement office will host a club fair. This will give you an opportunity to see what clubs are available. Find a club that reflects your interest and show up to the meetings. Yes, it may be awkward at first, but remember that everyone else in the club has the same interest as well. This is a great starting point for conversation. For example, you could initiate a dialogue by asking, “How long have you been interested in Anime?” Remember to reciprocate in the conversation—focusing on the common interest will make this easier. Joining clubs will answer the question, “Will there be others like me?”

If you are half way through the semester and have not joined clubs or made a friend or two, reach out for assistance. The DSO is a good place to start. Talk over your feelings with the counselors in the DSO. They can then connect you with services and offices on campus. The student involvement office may be able to pair you up with a “buddy” or student leader that can help.

Your world will expand through the general education courses you take. You will take a class in a subject that is new to you or where a different perspective is taught. This is great and may spark a career interest for you. It can give you a platform to learn a new course of study. You do not have to decide on a major or a career at 18 years old. You probably have many interests and will change your mind several times. Once you have started college and have developed a rhythm, go to the career center and meet the staff. Find out if a career assessment is available for you. This may help to solidify your career goals.

Taking good care of you will lead to increased success. Eat well and exercise. If you take medication, use your phone to set up reminders for your medication regimen. Sleep is important, too. There may be several late nights studying, so catch up on your sleep when you can.

Transitioning to college is an exciting time. You will learn to become a self-advocate and to become more independent. Remember that your mental, physical, and emotional health is most important. If you need assistance, speak to your expanding support network on campus. Every staff member at college is ready and willing to assist you. You are not alone.

Theresa Revans-McMenimon

Theresa Revans-McMenimon, M.S., L.M.H.C., L.M.F.T.

Theresa Revans-McMenimon, M.S., L.M.H.C., L.M.F.T. is a licensed mental health counselor and marriage and family therapist living and working in New York. In addition, she is an Adjunct Counselor for Students on the Autism Spectrum for Westchester Community College. Theresa brings her experience as a clinician and personal perspective as a parent of an individual with ASD to her higher ed position. Theresa is also an educational consultant to various families and institutions in New York.

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