I have been in college for 4 weeks now, and has it been a serious adjustment. Last time I was on a campus, I was a tiny baby autistic me, only 18 years old! At the time I knew nothing about autism, and I especially didn’t know that I was, in fact, autistic, so I moved through the college world overwhelmed and confused.
I failed a class, not because I lazy, but because I couldn’t find it. No matter how hard I tried, I got lost, and eventually I just stopped trying. Little me also didn’t know that you could drop a class, which could have been really useful.
I was also so sensory overwhelmed that I spent most of my time hiding under my bed. Some days I wish I could still do that now, but my bed isn’t tall enough. #adultproblems
Because I knew how hard college was last time, I made sure to have a plan going in, and that really helped. Did all of it work? No, of course not, but it gave me a great foundation for tweaking it, so it can be better for the coming semesters.
So, without further adieu, here’s what’s worked for me so far.
- Visual Directions: My wife is a genius on multiple levels, but the skill she has that I admire most (besides her ability to estimate, I mean how am I supposed to know how big an inch is?) is her internal sense of direction. She’s one of those people who can just point to north, just like that. A few hundred years ago she probably would have been burned as a witch. Anyway, the week before classes started we walked around campus, following my schedule, and she took a ton of pictures, and they turned into this! I have one for every class, and thank goodness, because 4 weeks in I still get totally lost without them.
2. Hybrid Classes: When I met with my advisor, I signed up for 4 classes equaling 12 credits, as a way of easing my way back into the wonderful world of college. At the time I wasn’t thrilled, because most people take 5 classes/15 credits, and I wanted to prove that I could too. Thank goodness I didn’t. I ended up dropping and replacing 2 of my courses, partially because they weren’t doable sensory wise (30 college kids in a tiny classroom all talking at one is my sensory hell), and also because I just couldn’t handle wearing my neurotypical mask all the time. I knew I didn’t want to go the all online option. It was fine for my associates, but I knew I needed to learn some of the social skills necessary for employment in my field, so I compromised. I now have 2 in person classes, 1 hybrid (half in person/half online) class, and one totally online class. I think if I had tried to tough the original plan out, I would have burned out by midterms.
3. Color Coding: No one who knows me would say that I’m an organized sort of person. Executive Dysfunction rules my brain, and I struggle with notes and studying, and with keeping myself on track. Color coding has been a life saver. Each of my classes has a color (red, green, blue, purple) and everything pertained in each class is done in its color. So my green class has notes in green pen, is highlighted in green, uses green post its, has its due dates written in green, and every mention of it in my planner is green. It’s a great way for me to visually track what’s going on, and to keep all the details from running together.
4. A Really Good Schedule: I struggle with making good use of my time. It’s hard for me to know what I need to be doing and when. In the wild, I naturally fall into a routine, and am drawn to activities that happen at the same time, every time. But when my day is totally packed with stuff has to get done right now, I need more than my natural routine, hence, a Really Good Schedule™. Folks, I am schedule down to the 15 minutes. I know exactly what time I need to leave, what time I do Physical Therapy , even what time I need to what time I need to shower. Having a Really Good Schedule™ makes the world of difference, mostly because I’m not constantly stressing out that I’m going to miss a class, or not leave at the right time.
5. Built in Self Care: I’ve been in mental health treatment and therapy long enough to know how important self care is. But I am only human, and when my life starts getting busy, all of a sudden I forget everything that I know about self care. With hyperfocus especially, I’ll work for hours, only to realize that my eyes are dry, and my back is aching. So, I make sure set a timer so I take a break, stretch, maybe read a bit. Self care for me also looks like making sure to spend time with Jess. We try to do little thing like bake and play board games every day, and we try to go to the park or the movies or a museum once a week. But for those random “I need self care right now” moment, I have a list. It has everything from taking a walk, to playing brainless games on my phone. The most important part is that I don’t have to make a decision. If I’m stressed enough to need self care, I can guarantee I won’t be in a headspace for picking something and making a plan.
6. Quizlet: I am a largely visual learning, to the point where just making flashcards helps me study more than actually using them. Please excuse my age for a moment while I say that it is So! Cool! That there are flashcard apps, because when I was in school the first time, it was pen and paper all the way. Enter Quizlet. It’s an app that also has browser access, and it is so much more than flashcards. Not only can you make the cards as you might traditionally, but it will help you learn by increasingly spacing out the amount of time it quizzes you on things, plus, if you have the date of your exam, it will make sure you learn in time. Add in multiple types of games and the fact that you can use other peoples cards and share yours, it’s a win for me.
There we go, all of the things that have kept me sane for the past month. I know that I usually open up the comments for your input, but this time I’m very very very curious. If you have any tips that got you through school, please let me know! I know I’m going to be tweaking my system for the next few years, and I could really use ideas!