Going away to college is both an exciting and exhausting time for students and their families. Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) might have a particularly difficult transition period because of their struggles with social skills, life skills and executive functions. The anxiety and pressure of creating and following a new schedule, living and cleaning independently, or self advocacy with professors that many students struggle with gets amplified for young people with ASD. While schools like Lexington Life Academy work tirelessly to prepare students for the demands of higher education, parents and caregivers can help make the transition to college smooth and easy.
Assessing Strong Skills And Skills That Can Be Improved
Whether your child is moving away to attend school or continuing to live at home, the schedule and routine that they have gotten used to will have to change. As students become more independent, they will have to do a lot for themselves. To prepare your student, you should make a list with them that has two categories: Skills they are proficient at, and skills they struggle with.
Be mindful of the following questions when creating your list:
- Can your child create and stick to their own schedule, including a healthy sleep schedule?
- Is your child proficient at making meals and providing for themselves?
- Do they struggle with personal hygiene? Are they able to keep their own living space clean?
- How prepared is your child to handle daily finances?
- Does your child have good study skills?
- Do they struggle with social interaction or will they know where to find clubs and groups to participate in socially?
- Can your loved one distinguish an unsafe situation? Are they prepared to be confronted with sex, drugs, and alcohol?
Build your list based off these questions and focus on the skills and areas that your child needs to improve on. Don’t be afraid to talk to them about everything, especially if they are not going to be living at home. Going to college can be overwhelming and many students are not prepared for the things that could derail their success. Independance is great, but it’s also a lot to take in at first.
Planning For The Transition
If your child has an IEP, transition planning with the team is a vital step to their success. Though many colleges have advocacy programs for people with disabilities and make support provisions for students with autism, the team your student has gotten used to will likely not follow them to college. The systems and people that have been in place through their education will not be part of their daily routine anymore which is highly disorienting, especially for kids that have had that structure in place for much of their life. Encourage the professionals on your IEP team to help your student grow in the areas they need to improve upon. You should also have your child take a more active role in meetings once they are in highschool. This can encourage self advocacy and give them an improved picture of what life will be like once they transfer to college.
Choosing A Major
Picking the right area of study is exciting and exceedingly difficult at the same time. Should your child focus on a major that pays well or one the incorporates their passions? Furthermore, does your child know what they want to study or are they unsure? Researchers have found that there are optimal careers for people with autism that are free from social pressure and incorporate skills that people with autism often have. Computer science, technology, journalism, engineering, accounting and library science are all highly productive and well-paying choices. Your child can also visit the Pathways After a Bachelor’s Degree page from the U.S. Census bureau that provides a snapshot of how certain degrees will perform over their lifetime. Overall, the focus should be to pick something functional that incorporates either passion or skill and to keep moving forward. Majors can be changed if they aren’t working out.
Choosing The Right School
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right school for your loved one with ASD. Ask these questions when choosing a school:
- Are they going to be living from home?
- If not, will they have some kind of support system to watch over them?
- What school best supports their major?
- What school has the best programs for students with disabilities? Are there accessibility provisions in place?
- Are there living and study areas that are mindful of people with autism?
- Is the college affordable?
There are many schools throughout the U.S. that have excellent programs for students with autism, including the University of Arizona in our own backyard.
Many experts and former students recommend completing the first two years of general education classes at a local college or junior college before transitioning to a university. This will help acclimate students to the college schedule and atmosphere.
At Lexington Life Academy we focus on fostering independence, growth and valuable learning for our members, in both an academic context and important life skills. We want to see our members succeed in every way possible, from early childhood development through graduation and beyond. If your child has autism and you’re looking for a place that is sensitive to their needs while helping them grow, contact Lexington for more information today.
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