I have been in college for 5 weeks now, and as usual, it has been a serious adjustment. My longest previous experience of being 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 was 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 ado, here’s what’s worked for me so far.
- Visual Directions
This one requires a buddy, but if you can visit your campus before the semester starts and have someone with an excellent sense of direction to help you make visual directions, it can significantly cut down on the amount of time you spend lost.
2. Hybrid Classes
I’m not sure hybrid is the word that all schools use, but a hybrid class is partially in person, partially online, and all autism-friendly. Spending 1 day a week in class instead of 3 has left me with less stressful social issues, and less sensory overload. Even just one hybrid class has made my traditional on-campus classes more doable. Now, online classes aren’t for everyone- it usually requires you to be more independent, but I love the flexibility, and to be honest, the fact that I can communicate on emails and message boards instead of face to face. Also, as a bit of a hangover from all that homeschooling, I prefer to teach myself things. If this is sounding good to you, I highly suggest seeing if your college or university offers hybrid courses as an option.
3. Color Coding
There are several ways that people learn, some people learn visually, some are better with Auditory, and others are kinesthetic learners-they learn using their bodies. Now me? I’m a hands-on learner for sure, but most of the time it’s not very convenient for me to touch everything I’m trying to learn. Luckily I’ve got visual learning as a back-up. Even though I can’t make pictures in my head like most people, visual information is fairly accessible to me. Hence, color coding. Each class of mine has a color, and I use colored pens and markers on my planner, my calendar, my to-do lists- all that organizational stuff. For me, it makes tasks and appointments pop out, so I’m more likely to process and complete them.
4. Built-in Self Care
I’m pretty sure that one of these days, I’m going to bring up self-care, and you’ll all revolt, and leave me here talking to myself. But until that day, we can talk about self-care! I find it extra important during the semester, because all of my brainpower is going towards learning and being social and trying to be flexible, so I’ve got no brain power to take care of myself. And I’m not talking overly complicated. You don’t have to book a spa day or get a massage. I go to my favorite used bookstore and browse for a while and buy a book (or two). On my long days, I treat myself to coffee. I bake cookies with Jess. I take time to snuggle with the cats. I think the best self-care is little, focused things. You know what you like best, so let yourself have it sometimes.
Hands up if you were that kid in school who always had a stack of note cards to study with. My hand isn’t up, because although I admired to organizational abilities of people who could study, I could never figure out how to make it work for me. Enter technology. I found the Quizlet app when I was looking for a way to put digital post-it’s on my phone. I still haven’t figured that out. Hm. Anyway, it’s a free app, where you can make your own decks, but you can also use other peoples. I can guarantee you that most low-level courses already have decks of information made. This, and the fact that Quizlet offers not only quizzes but games to help you learn information, made me a studying convert. Having all my decks on my phone means them when I can run through while I’m waiting in line, or in the car. Convenience, people, I’m all about convenience.
The apps that I find most successful are the ones that give you a streak if you use it every day, and if you miss, you lose your streak. I’m talking about apps like Duolingo, or Memrise, or in this case, Habitica. Habitica used to be called Habit RPG, which I think gives you a better idea of what the point of it it is, but whatever. The concept is pretty simple, you put in things you’d like to make a habit, like brushing your teeth twice a day, or playing with the dog, or remembering to pack your lunch. If you do these things, you get points. You can level up, buy cool gear for your character, and hatch pet eggs. If you don’t, you break the streak and get noting. I find it a nice push to do things that are important, but not that important. (And if you’re worried that keeping your streak is TOO stressful, there’s a tavern where your character can rest without consequence.)
So here we are, everything that’s keeping me going this semester. I’m sure I’ll figure out new stuff, so look out for a part 2 of this post in Fall 2019!