Vassar: College is important developmentally for those with autism

Ethan Vassar

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

To say college is important is almost a drastic understatement. With so many more doors open to them, college graduates typically earn more on average and have job stability, career satisfaction, and success outside the workplace. Additionally, college involves many important firsts: first time living alone first time cooking meals and first time advocating for oneself.

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For most students, these take a back seat to the supposedly more salient financial and metier aspects of college, but for those on the autistic spectrum, they are just as important, if not more so.

This all rings true for me, as I have Asperger’s syndrome, classified as being on the autistic spectrum in 2013.

It’s referred to as a spectrum because of the wide variety in the severity and symptoms expressed by those on the spectrum. Typically, most on the autistic spectrum share a difficulty in communicating with others and themselves and have narrow interests with repetitive behaviors. Additionally, Richard Mills of the Research Autism organization writes that “stress affects everyone, but there is a growing awareness that autistic people may be particularly stressful to high levels of unhealthy stress.” This makes it extremely challenging for those with autism to be productive and contributing members of society.

Although Asperger’s syndrome is considered to be on the “high functioning” part of the spectrum, I still have difficulty with communication, particularly deciphering exactly what someone or a piece of text is getting at, and usually always have to ask for clarification. Additionally, I am quite habitual and the slightest change or unforeseen hiccup in my daily routines brings with it an avalanche of stress.

With all these factors, college would seem like a horrible experience for those with autism. However, the college environment is crucial to help those on the spectrum learn to deal with the unfortunate hand they’ve been dealt and overcome it, something to be proud of.

 

With all these factors, college would seem like a horrible experience for those with autism. However, the college environment is crucial to help those on the spectrum learn to deal with the unfortunate hand they’ve been dealt and overcome it, something to be proud of.

 

For me, my time at Colorado State University has helped immensely and changed me for the better. College provides a backdrop for those like myself to overcome the three symptoms commonly shared: difficulty communicating, narrow interests, and repetitive behavior.

College provides a myriad of opportunities to improve communication skills. Having a roommate might seem daunting at first, but it gives those on the spectrum a chance to develop more intimate communication skills. Luck out and your roommate might be a great friend and can help you further communication skills with a new friend group. On the other hand, a troublesome roommate will prepare someone with autism for the all but certain times later in life when they’ll have to deal with a rude customer or an unsavory landlord.

In the classroom, more professional types of communication can also get better when stopping by a professor’s office hours. They are, or at least should, do their best to help their students succeed. Joining a fraternity or sorority could also be helpful in increasing one’s comfort in interacting with a variety of others. And of course, there is the Student Resolution Center at CSU which offers workshops and professionals to talk to, assisting and cultivating communication skills.

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College also provides opportunities to broaden the interests of those on the spectrum. The hundreds of student clubs and organizations can cultivate multiple interests, widening the horizons and hobbies someone with autism can engage in. This rings true for me, my freshman year I joined the opinion desk of this fine newspaper and it has helped expand my interests so I have more options in my future. Additionally, the huge number of different subjects a university offers, and CSU’s AUCC credit requirements help expand what someone with autism would typically expose themselves to.

A reliance on routine actually helps success in college. For me, having a routine not only decreases the amount of stress I have on a daily basis but also helps me stay on top of things and make the most out of my day. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day helps with feeling well rested, and with the unpredictable nature of the day minimalized, so too is stress. Here, it is necessary for those on the autistic spectrum to realize reliance on routine isn’t a bad thing and can be helpful.

In short, although it may seem scary and daunting, the benefits of college will outweigh any uncomfort. The imprortance of communicating better, widening one’s horizons, and learning why routine is a good thing do a great deal to help those with autism flourish in society and life in general. 

Ethan Vassar can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on twitter @ethan_vassar.