Tag Archive: college


I recently read a Facebook post by one of my favorite Aspergian authors John Elder Robison, that he was pleased to find out that the College of William and Mary in Virginia has initiated a program to better understand and work with neuro-diverse individuals.   I am inspired to see some movement in the right direction, but still dismayed at how many colleges – and employers – have such a lack of understanding and empathy for those with disorders such as autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

My daughter was not diagnosed with ASD until her sophomore year of high school.  Although there were many struggles before and after diagnosis, those challenges have gotten even larger and more life-impacting as she’s grown older and more independent.   The communication and social skill deficits create minefields out of what would be no big deal to a neurotypical individual. These minefields are ready to explode with a single misstep.  It’s nervewracking for a parent who’s hours away, and receives a phone call when each minefield explodes.

Some examples:

  • Dealing with roommates or coworkers
  • Handling medical situations/illnesses (navigating treatment and insurance)
  • Communicating with professors or employers about accommodations or special needs
  • Explaining idiosyncracies to others
  • Sensory hypersensitivity, and the emotions that come with it end up affecting performance

Adaptive services departments do what they can, but often do not advocate for the students who need them.  The colleges my daughter has experienced have well-intentioned staff, but are not really equipped to help ASD students succeed.  It’s not a matter of equipment for someone who has an obvious physical disability — it’s  matter of understanding the “invisible” disability and getting the professors to also understand and accommodate.   The most frustrating thing is that the professors are totally unsympathetic to this disability, don’t understand it at all, and expect the ASD student (who appears to be normal on the outside) to perform the same as the neurotypical student under the same circumstances.  It just doesn’t work.

The same goes for employers.   Even though she is a quick learner, hard worker and dependable, my daughter has trouble keeping a job, due to the conditions of her Asperger’s.   In high school, she was fired from a deli cashier position, stating that it was because of her Asperger’s.  She didn’t really do anything wrong, she just wasn’t as fast as they wanted her to be. However, when we parents called the manager to ask him, he said he never said that.  We had no proof, so there was nothing we could do.  At other jobs, she has dealt with sexual harassment, crooked managers, and manipulative coworkers.  At one job, she was told that she didn’t smile enough. She lost a very good job due to a jealous supervisor training her to do an important task the wrong way.  Yes, this is the way of the “real world”, but as someone with this disability, she is not able to cope with these situations and their consequences the same way a neurotypical person might in terms of self-advocating or being cognizant of other people’s motives.

Students with autism related disabilities CAN succeed in college and on the job with a little help and understanding, but there needs to be a culture of neuro-diversity acceptance.   It’s easy to recognize discrimination based on age, religion, physical handicaps, or gender, but those with mental illnesses and disorders are discriminated against every day and there’s not much that can be done to prove it. Everyone has strengths, weaknesses and different personality traits which should be embraced and used to their full potential.  It’s so disappointing when major corporations and universities fail in this area where they should be leading the way.  I feel that fair treatment of those with mental disorders will be a long time in coming, if ever.

It’s a shame since they have many strengths and talents that could be of great benefit.   Kudos to the employers and colleges who are on their way to appreciating these differences.

Our daughter’s psychologist always said… just get her through high school.  College will be easier once she gets to choose her courses.  Well, in some ways yes — in other ways, not so much!

Once your Aspergian is an adult, there’s little you can really control — unless they allow you to.  Privacy policies and over-enthusiastic freshman advisors will block you at every turn in the effort to ensure this young adult starts to test their wings (no matter what the consequences!)

At orientation, the big message to parents was to “let go”.  I’m sure that with NT (neurotypical) young adults, that’ is absolutely the best thing to do.  However, with Asperger’s Syndrome in the mix, the decision-making capabilities can be more diminished.  Some Aspergians will accept authority and not question things enough.  So, at orientation, parents were not allowed into the course selection process and our daughter ended up with THREE virtual courses and only two on-campus courses.

LESSON #1:  REAL CLASSROOM TEACHING WORKS BETTER FOR OUR ASPERGIAN THAN VIRTUAL COURSES

First semester completed.  We’ve been told by our daughter that she did pretty well, although she had dropped one class.  Well, wasn’t she surprised to receive a letter from the university right before second semester letting her know that she is on academic probation.  Failed two courses her first semester.   Of the courses she had trouble with — all three were “virtual” – requiring her to keep track of assignments, tests, etc. and do them on time via computer.  Two F’s and a withdraw.   For her on-campus courses, she earned an A and a B!

LESSON #2: COLLEGE PROFESSORS ARE NOT AS SYMPATHETIC AS  HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS

This was a rude awakening for someone who was pushed and prodded through high school by instructors who contacted her or us about missing assignments or low test scores.  She contacted one professor and was told pretty succinctly that she had not turned in two assignments that were  a large portion of her grade, therefore she had earned what she got.  There were some tears and (I hope) the realization that college professors are not as forgiving as her high school teachers when it comes to grades.

LESSON #3:  AN ASPERGIAN WILL HAVE OPPORTUNITIES TO EXCEL IN COLLEGE WITH THEIR SPECIALIZED AREA OF INTEREST

On the bright side, during her first semester, she joined many student organizations, including the staff of the university newspaper.  Politics within the newspaper staff resulted in editors playing favorites with some of the writers — which didn’t include her.  She attended editorial meetings and presented many ideas and articles, but was only published once or twice during the semester.  She was becoming frustrated and ready to quit, but we encouraged her to stick with it.

It paid off. This semester, she is taking some different courses (ALL ON CAMPUS, thanks to mom helping with the registration this time).  Her journalism professor took notice of her writing skills and told her how talented she is.  She mentioned to him her frustration with the school newspaper not including her articles.  He must have made a call. Right after that, she got a full-page feature article in the university newspaper and was promoted to Senior Staff Writer!  In addition, her professor has recommended her to the local newspaper as a freelance writer.

Compared to many Aspergians, our daughter is really only mildly affected, but it DOES affect her daily life.  She must learn to embrace her strengths, but know that she has a responsibility to push through and improve upon her weak areas, such as communication, time management and organizational skills, in order to gain opportunities.  In starting to let go as parents, it is a daily struggle to deal with the worry about the decisions she will make; things she might forget; things she should be doing, etc.  All parents of college students probably go through this as their sons or daughters make possibly life-altering mistakes.  However, we must remember that it IS their life, and every mistake will lead – hopefully – to learning accountability and self-sufficiency as they begin to take life on their own two feet.

Aspergers Meets Sorority Rush

As a new freshman at a state university, my daughter’s totally engrossed in college classes and activities.  In addition to joining several organizations and interest groups, she decided to participate in sorority recruitment, otherwise known as “rush”.

As a sorority alumna, I’ve been though rush, although many years ago, so I wasn’t totally in the dark about how things operate.  However, this is 20 years later, at a different than I attended.  I found the process the same in many ways, but it was on a much larger scale, with over 500 girls participating.

Since she’s come a long way with her social skills over the past few years, and can carry on a conversation with almost anyone without them knowing anything’s amiss, she chose not to reveal her diagnosis during this process to avoid being labeled or ostracized.   However, Asperger’s Syndrome still presented some unique complications which didn’t mesh well with the process:

  • Impulsivity – she posted messages on Facebook talking about rush or certain sororities.  Although the messages were all positive, she didn’t think ahead to know that people she had friended on Facebook in other sororities, or at the college in general, might be offended by what she wrote.
  • Communication – She wasn’t able to adequately communicate with her rush counselor or her work manager about some scheduling conflicts.  This resulted in her having no choice but to withdraw from rush altogether, during the final stages.  This could have been avoided if she were more adept at handling this type of situation and necessary schedule negotiations.
  • Emotions – There’s a lot of pressure to impress the sororities because of the massive numbers of young women who are competing for a limited number of spots.  This, combined with long, late hours attending events, and the subsequent selection (or non-selection) results causes emotional overload, amplified by the effects of Asperger’s.
  • Timing – Sorority recruitment occurs during the second week of the school year, when freshmen are just adjusting to being in college for the first time, and in most cases, away from home with new-found independence.  It’s a stressful time even before you add rush activities.

Another thought to ponder is… is a sorority the right place for an Aspie?  I firmly believe that’s an individual decision, much like every activity an Aspie might be drawn to.  It depends on their comfort level and what their college goals are.  Although I didn’t have Asperger’s, I was a shy college freshman – the first one in my family to attend college.  Joining a sorority gave me an instant group of accepting friends, and great opportunities for leadership development and socializing.  I believe this would have advantages for someone who’s has very high functioning autism. Sororities strive for diversity within their ranks — people who complement each other and who share their ideals.   Perhaps there are some sororities who are on the superficial side (as depicted on TV and in movies), but by going through rush, a potential member can usually find a sorority they can identify and bond with.

Although it didn’t work out this time, she is considering trying again next fall (recruitment is only once per year).  At least she’ll know what to expect and what pitfalls to avoid.  In the meantime, she’s finding a ton of activities and causes that fit her interests and enjoying spreading her wings.

Anyone with suggestions or experiences?  Please share!

I was just reading about an inspirational project in Prospect Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota, aimed at helping young adult students with Aspergers and other disabilities transition to independent living.  The article by Alex Holmquist originated in Minnesota Daily.

The project led by ANSWER Aspergers Network Support, began when developer Dawn Chapman, from Firm Ground Architects and Engineers was discussing her own son’s learning disability with a psychologist, who said there is a huge housing shortage for people with autism spectrum disorders. Stepping Stone House will provide transitional housing for people between ages 18 and 26 with Asperger’s syndrome and other learning disabilities.

The dormitory style complex is intended to give residents the opportunity to learn how to live on their own while still providing them with 24-hour support.  It will be managed by staff from by staff from The Cooperating Community Programs, an organization that specializes in residential home care for people with disabilities.

Construction will begin as soon as funding is in place.