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Being autistic at university: what you need to know

autistic university student

It’s that time of year when, for one final time, you go into your sixth form or further education college. Eagerly awaiting your ‘A’ Level results, you hope that all that hard work over the past two years spent on writing essays, putting together coursework and revising like mad has paid dividends.

On receiving your results, you’ve found out there and then that you’ve gained enough UCAS points to get to the university of your choice, but what happens next? In this blog post, we go through the basics of being an autistic university student, from finance and support to studying and socialising.

Take the essentials

Unless you’re going to a uni that’s close to home, it’s likely that you’ll need to live away from the family. This involves a lot of work, shopping and packing, but we’ve got a little checklist that you might find useful. Here’s what you should bring with you:

  • Bedding
  • Clothes
  • A laptop, notebook or tablet
  • Stationery
  • Textbooks
  • Pots and pans
  • Crockery and cutlery
  • Small kitchen appliances e.g. kettle
  • A television
  • Something for storing all your paperwork

Fitting all of that in the boot of a car seems like hard work, but it’s worth it. Before that, however, you need to get two things sorted: somewhere to live and money to help fund it.

A place of your own

For your new student digs, you have two options for your first year. You can either contact your university and apply to stay in their Halls of Residence or find private student accommodation.

The first step is to visit your university’s website and check out the accommodation section. Then, you should get all necessary info. If your uni has a disabled students service, contact them and talk about your needs e.g. wanting to live alone or in a quiet space on campus.

Be sure to check out the accommodation before signing the contract; take a thorough look, possibly accompanied by a parent. This will let you map out how you plan to live while studying and where you can fit all of your worldly possessions.

All about the money

Having the money in place to fund accommodation costs as well as food, tuition fees and other expenses like travel is very important. To do that, you may need to apply for a student loan – this link on the GOV.UK website is where you need to start.

The amount you’ll receive per year goes up to £8,200 outside London (in the capital, it’s nearer £10,700). Repayment doesn’t happen until after graduation, when a small portion of your salary from your first job goes towards it.

Loan money will be paid into your account in instalments coinciding with the start of each term. From that, you can pay for rent, food and other essentials. To top up your income, it might be worth taking a part-time job if possible, or checking out any benefits available.

As an autistic student, there is one benefit you can apply for. The Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) will see you receive funding to top up the cost of studying. General payments go up to £1,741 per year, with additional funding awarded if you need specialist equipment.

Your first week

The first week of your university course is called freshers’ week. This is where you can acclimatise yourself to your surroundings, find out where everything is on and off-campus, learn about what your course involves and look at the social side of uni.

While it might be tempting to do as many things as possible in the space of just five days, it’s worth doing things at your own pace. Do one thing at a time: one day exploring the campus, the next checking out town, the following one getting to know your classmates.

Getting support

Most universities will have their own student support service for disabled undergraduates and postgraduates. Try and talk to them during your first week to let them know about your needs for studying, accommodation and other things such as sensory issues and socialising with others. Then, they’ll know how to support you.

While you’re at it, make a note of what sort of equipment you’ll need to study in the best possible way. If, say, you need a quiet place to revise, a computer to type on for exams and essays or some equipment needed to meet your sensory needs, mention it in a meeting with them and they can help.

Socialising

A big part of campus life is talking to other students. As with exploring the campus, try doing it at your own pace and be sure not to push yourself into a situation where you feel uncomfortable. See if there are any societies at your uni based around something you’re interested in, like gaming or sports.

Trying to fit in is hard work in any environment. Being yourself is much easier than putting on a facade and trying to act neurotypical. Maybe meet other autistic students who are in the same boat as you; it’s possible you could strike up a bond and become friends from freshers’ week to graduation.

Studying

This is by far the most important part of being a student, and you’ll want to make sure everything goes right. Here are some top tips:

  • Print off a timetable for each semester/term and check it before the start of each day
  • When you have free time during weekdays with no lectures, workshops or seminars, spend some of it on research or revision
  • Take a laptop or voice recorder into each lecture to record what’s being said
  • To save money on textbooks, find the nearest charity bookshop; they might have discount versions of those you’re looking for
  • Proofread everything you’ve written, from slideshows to essays
  • Check what information/research is available before choosing an essay or dissertation topic
  • If you’re concerned about part of your course, speak to the most sympathetic lecturer you have

There’s a lot to get your head round when starting uni, but if done right, it can be a fun and rewarding experience. Just remember to do things at your own pace and try not to put yourself in a position where you feel uncomfortable, in or out of the lecture theatre.

About the author

Luke Aylward

Luke Aylward

Luke is an Aspie copywriter and designer based in Leeds. He's the chairman of a local support group and enjoys providing accessible info around all things autism.

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