The Denver Autism Wheel

Hints from the trenches: moving on to college

Posted on: December 7, 2010

This is a brilliant posting I found on one of the Yahoo groups I subscribe to. If you haven’t looked into them yet, gems like these come along frequently, but I wanted to share this one, with the author’s kind permission (thank you, Kristen) because it’s something I don’t have insight on yet, since Chris is still in elementary school.

The question is how to help your autie make a successful (read “mostly independent”) transition from high school to college. Here is one fellow autie mom’s answer, edited only slightly because it included references to other replies:

Where’s the line between supporting independence and enabling by “doing for” our kiddos? My son N. is a Junior now at CU, and it’s been a struggle sometimes, but we’ve learned a lot. College was a given. He was going 🙂 Unless he could prove to us that he could make a living some other way. Here are a few tips/reminders that helped us along the way:

  1. Remember that more support is needed in the beginning when they are in transition and learning to navigate this new situation. (It took a few semesters of help but now my son can register on his own and also knows to try and not call me for help until he’s called his counselor or someone in the department.)
  2. Enlist as many others as you can for help. This is so important!!! For example, I asked his cousin to help him try get involved socially. His cousin is also student who lives on campus and she and her roommates agreed to have him over on Thursdays between his classes. It makes me beyond happy to know that he is doing something social during the week, but this wouldn’t be happening if we hadn’t purposely set this up. He also has a DVR counselor who he can call for assistance with anything related to school. My son really connects with his Grandpa so I asked him to talk to N. about safety on campus (since N. insists on taking night classes so he can sleep in every day) and also dressing appropriately for the cold weather- and most importantly to check in and follow up with him about this every semester. (It’s funny that if this came from mom, he would ignore it and I love that it’s one less thing I have to worry about 🙂 So for your own sake, try and find as many people you can who can be a “support team” and remember that this is a learning experience- each semester learning more and becoming more independent.
  3. Start slow. My son only takes 2 classes per semester. He also takes Summers off. Anything more is just too much. I hear what you’re saying, Vanessa, about how the higher functioning kids have to deal with the “Hidden Disabilities” issues.  This can be challenging but I’ve been happily surprised at the professors at CU. There have only been a few who haven’t understood N. after a few weeks.
  4. My son is now an adult and can make his own choices, but we’ve told him that we will not help him financially unless he finishes his degree. Sorry, but that’s how it is. So as much as he wants to stay in his room and play video games, that’s not happening as long as he needs our financial support.

Remember that graduating HS and going to college is a major time of “Transition.” Think about how your kiddo does with transition. (My son gets scared and anxious, and that looks like him “checking out,” not moving forward on his own and not wanting to do anything but play video games). Lastly, be careful in saying that your child “could never” turn in work on time or be organized enough, etc. You could be surprised. My son is doing things I never imagined he could. I think the most important thing that helps our family is the fact that we have a “Help N. in college Support team” consisting of extended family, professionals, family friends and the college staff. If we didn’t have a team we purposely put together, I would be stressed out trying to do and figure out everything myself. Good luck during this transition time!

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