Advice for College-Bound Students with Asperger’s or Autism

Okay. Normally, I decline to give written advice to anyone on any matter, because what the hell do I know? But the questions pile up from people on the spectrum, their parents, their partners, their employers, etc. So, while this is not advice from a credentialed professional, it is guidance from a human being who has done all right so far. Take it for what it’s worth.

QUESTION: Dave, do you have any advice for college-bound Aspies?

I do have advice for college-bound Aspies. For my Aspie readers who detest indirect language and metaphors, I’ll address you first and quite literally: The value of continuing your education at the collegiate level is that you have an opportunity to learn how to be an independent adult while narrowing your academic focus to the subjects you love most.

Elementary and high school models in the United States insist that all students be top performers in all subjects. This is fucking ridiculous. The truth is, adults needs enough acumen in a range of topics to enable our efforts in our chosen careers and interests. No more, no less.

You’ll find college to be the transitional bridge to your adult life, so let’s examine what it means to “be an independent adult” (and, please, take this for what it’s worth, considering that I almost always forget to pay every one of my bills and haven’t read the news in roughly ever). As a grown-up, the world’s demands on you will change a little. We’ve somehow decided that currency is, like, really important. So, unless you’re independently wealthy, earning money will consume much of your time and energy in adulthood. Employers will not care about who you are as an individual, they will only care about what you can do for their organization. (Sorry, but it’s totally true.) With that, here is exactly what employers will need from you, their employee:

 

  • They will expect you to get your shit done, correctly and on time, absolutely no excuses
  • They will expect you to share your skills, so get good at stuff
  • They will expect you to show up and contribute in a meaningful and productive way
  • Unfortunately, they will expect you to do all of this on their terms, so get used to living on someone else’s schedule and communicating your ideas clearly, even if it’s to morons
  • They will expect you not to call people morons ( * rolls eyes * )

 

College is a great time to start cultivating these attributes. You’re not quite entirely on your own yet, and you are surrounded by opportunity to build a portfolio of projects that demonstrate your awesome abilities. If you can demonstrate to a potential employer that you can get shit done, they will snatch you up right out of college. Better yet, if you can prove to yourself that you can get shit done without an employer telling you what to do, then you can work for yourself!

Point is, do not squander your college experience on bong rips and video games. That will not serve you in adulthood, and adulthood is going to be most of your life as a human. Use the years ahead to build a comprehensive portfolio of skills and projects, both personal and professional.

Also, use the years ahead to practice living independently. By that, I mean practice waking up early enough to eat breakfast before your first class. Practice excellent personal hygiene (the world will insist that you show up clean, no matter what). Practice handing in your shit on time and completed to the literal best of your ability. Practice managing your time and money, and practice taking care of your emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. These efforts will serve you in college and for the rest of your life. Honor what serves you.

A final note: if your college offers a transition program, consider taking advantage of what it has to offer. The two worst assumptions a college-bound Aspie can make are (1) This chick will totally dig a picture of my naughty bits, and (2) transitioning from home to college will be easy. Selfies from the neck-up only, and the transition will be harder than you expect. Them’s the rules. Many colleges now offer transition programs that provide structured and personal supports for at-risk students like us, with offerings ranging from social skills development to personal advocacy.

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