Spectrum Solutions

Personal Growth Development for Children, Teens, and Adults on the Spectrum

The Secrets of A Successful Transition to College

Would you travel to the other side of the world without a road map? No!

Going from elementary school to middle school is one thing.

Going from middle school to high school is another thing.

Then comes the moment you have been waiting and planning for: College!

I was watching a couple of great videos by Mr. Alex Plank, founder of Wrong Planet, a forum with over 35,000 persons either with Aspergers, or related to a family member on the autism spectrum.  In one of those videos he provided some helpful tips I'd like to share with you.

Disclaimer!  Given the diversity of the autism spectrum, college is not for everyone.  I should go even further to say, as diverse as the human race is, college is not for everyone!  But since the scope of this article is college, alternative options have to be written about at a later time.

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Think About Starting Out Slow.

Whether you go straight to a 4 year college, or go to a community college, make sure that you check school laws in your state.  If you have an individualized education plan (IEP) in place, part of that plan includes transition planning to help you be successful in college.  Make sure that plan is in place.

More and more, community college is becoming the choice for more and more high school graduates.  In the Chicago area, where I am writing from, there are many high quality community colleges.  They have very good academic support centers, and can be a great way to transition successfully to another level of independence.  In addition, you can knock out much of your general education requirements while deciding where to finish your junior and senior years.

Explore Schools That Are Equipped With Lots of Resources.

I am grateful to Transition Map for providing the link to the Asperger Syndrome Resource Guide.  This page has a listing of 2 year colleges and 4 year universities listed by state.  These schools tend to have a more extensive support network of academic and disability services, so that whatever accommodations you need can be made for you.

Don't Look Down Your Nose At Receiving Help.

As a therapist, I have heard parents complain over and over that their kids refuse to get help, whether from a regular teacher, a resource teacher, or a social worker.  I loved Alex Plank's take on receiving help.  He sees it as a luxury to take advantage of.  After all, CEO's have their administrative and personal assistants!  Why should you not take advantage of your own personal staff of professionals to help you succeed in college.  Be proud, not ashamed!

Pick a Quiet Place To Live.

Here I am being careful not to overgeneralize.   But Alex Plank pointed out that his first year at college he picked the party floor.  Only to find that the noise levels were intolerable!  So he picked a new floor to live on, the one with all the PhD students!  And they were even more sensitive to noise than he was :)

Socialize According to Your Interests.

Use the school intranet ahead of time to familiarize yourself with all the different clubs available on campus.  Depending on your interest, it will go a long way in helping you connect with like minded people.  Friendships often form with a bond of common interests.

And, as difficult as it may be for you, states Mr. Plank, no one knows anyone at college when they first get there.  If there were painful experiences in your past, work to put those behind you.  Work to get some ongoing personal counseling and coaching through the university counseling center, so that you can get feedback, support, and ongoing tips as you go through your socializing periods.

Fake It Till You Make It!

In addition to socializing according to your interests, pretend to be interested in other people.  Take some time to sit on a bench in the campus commons or at another social gathering place.  Take mental notes.  Be a social researcher. 

Alex Plank stated that he was never really interested in other people.  But he pretended quite a bit, he put himself into social situations, he made mistakes, but over time, he actually found that he was really becoming interested in other people, and that he enjoyed learning about them and their interestes by asking them questions about themselves.

Use Social Networking (To a Point)

It can be easy to forget names, but it's easy to keep up with face recognition.  Use Facebook as a way to keep up with your friends and their birthdays, personal facts, and interests.  I say that you should use it to a point, because social networking online can never fully take the place of face to face interaction.  Use it in balance.

Get Organized!

If you have never done it before, take a basic study skills course and/or career planning course at your college.  I took a Study Skills course in high school and found it immensely helpful when I got to college.  Another course I never took, but wish I had, was a Life Planning Course put on by the Career Services office at my college.  By the time I was in my senior year I was panicking, not knowing what I wanted to do next!  Don't make the mistake of missing these opportunities.

I hope these tips will help you make a successful transition to college.  Remember to follow this roadmap as you pursue your next level of success on the spectrum.

Stephen Borgman is a psychotherapist who frequently works with neurodiverse children and adults.

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