Tips for Autistic Students: How to Make the Most of a Tutoring Session

Congratulations! Going to a tutoring or writing center can be an important step in your academic maturity. Seeking support when you need it is a facet of self-advocacy and a realization of internal motivation. Just as many of the best students attend office hours, so, too, do exemplary students use tutoring support to help them achieve academic goals. Here, contributor Katie Matthews walks you through the steps to take once you’ve decided some extra academic support will benefit you.

You’re going to a tutoring session. That means you’ve identified which class or assignment you’re having difficulty with, you’ve contacted the TA, and you’ve scheduled a tutoring session with the tutoring or writing center on campus. Now what? Sure, you can just show up at the right place at the right time, but to get the most benefit from your tutoring session, some preparation can help. This post will outline what you need to know and what you can do to come out of your tutoring sessions ahead.

Know your tutor so you can plan accordingly: Is this a general tutor that works for the college and is knowledgeable about ALL areas of study, are they someone your TA recommended, or you were referred to someone who has taken the specific class you are currently enrolled in?

A general tutor might focus on study strategies, reviewing material, organizing, writing, and editing papers, and creating a plan to tackle overall workload.

A tutor who has taken the same class before may also do the above, but they will also have experience regarding which specific materials will be the most important and what format of assessments the teacher typically gives (i.e. multiple choice vs. open ended questions). They also might be more knowledgeable about the area of study.

Erin Campbell, a tutor at Arapahoe Community College says, “Your institution should staff their tutoring centers with qualified staff and direct the students accordingly, and, often, the personality match of the student and tutor is more important than having taken the same exact course. Ultimately, the most important thing a student can do is understand and be able to verbalize their needs.”

Allyson Jones, manager and former tutor at the Frisco Writing Center at Collin College writes, “Most college campuses have a writing center where students can go to receive one-on-one support on their writing assignments, or even on writing they are doing outside of class, such as application essays, resumes, or creative pieces. Students who know they will want writing support should locate their campus writing center at the beginning of the semester and familiarize themselves with the services offered. Some writing centers will take walk-ins while others use an appointment system. It is best not to come to the center the day a paper is due. Getting feedback earlier in the process is much more useful, as students need ample time to continue developing the paper with the aid of the tutor’s suggestions.”

Is the session one on one (just yourself and the tutor), or is it a group?

In a group setting, a tutor might help you get started on a problem or an area, and then move on to helping someone else. Or, they may pose general questions to the whole group. To make sure your questions are heard in a group setting or that you get the help you need, do not be afraid to speak up or raise your hand to get the tutor’s attention or to ask your question.

Look out for familiar or friendly faces in the tutoring group. These may be students willing to study together outside of the tutoring session as well. Like you, they are showing that they are concerned and thinking about their grades by attending the session.

If it is a one-on-one session, you will have the full attention of the tutor the entire time. Take advantage of the additional time by getting through more of your questions and asking for feedback on your specific work.

Come prepared.

Bring all class materials, notes, books, and QUESTIONS.

Check online with your campus’ tutoring center website for additional guidelines for what to bring.

Regarding writing-specific tutors, Allyson adds, “In our center, we ask students to prepare for their session by gathering any materials that the tutor and student might want to refer to while reviewing a piece of writing. For students who have just received a writing assignment and are unsure about how to begin, this might just mean bringing a printout of the professor’s assignment sheet or writing prompt. Writing tutors are happy to help students brainstorm; students who come in for help at this stage generally leave their session with a page full of ideas, or even an outline, and feel much more confident about proceeding with their paper. Students who are further along in the writing process are asked to bring their partial or completed draft…as well as any sources they are citing in the paper (especially if they need citation help).”

Be prepared to have a conversation with your tutor about which areas are especially challenging or confusing, or where you feel you are getting stuck within the process.

Think about your timing.

Expect that the tutoring center will be busier around midterms and finals.

Take a look at upcoming assignments in your planner. Check the tutoring schedule or email your tutor ahead of time to see if there is a time available the week before it’s due. For a bigger assignment, plan times to meet further than a week out. Coming in right before a test or the day an assignment is due potentially will not allow for enough time for the tutor to offer as much support or guidance.

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Katie is a part time speech and language pathologist and part time professional runner. Katie received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Boston University in Speech, Hearing, and Language Sciences and Speech-Language Pathology, respectively. She also trains on the Boston Athletic Association High Performance Team. Katie has experience in public and private schools as well as private clinic settings. She works with children and young adults with a variety of disabilities, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Katie loves to share executive functioning and planning tips along with the more traditional social language strategies to help students succeed.

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