1. Colleges have vocabulary and rituals that will seem new and unique. Concepts like deans, provost, convocations may be new to you. What do you call your professors? Dr.? Ms.? Mr.? You need to ask. Some campus rituals will feel strange.
2. Family structure will change. Your mom and dad may experience freedom when you leave home, or they may feel a great sense of loss, or they may feel both! Your dad may find himself the only male among his wife and daughters. Your mom may find herself the only female among her husband and sons. The phone may be quieter than before. New space may become available. When you return home for visits, you may feel like everyone has gobbled-up your space and moved on.
3. Your mom and dad need to express concern and interest, and empower you to seek appropriate kinds of help when necessary, to make good choices, and to learn from the college experience. But, they can’t step in and do it for you. However, some of the situations that come up can be stressful and difficult for you. For your parents, there is a fine balance in taking a genuine interest and offering help – but not encouraging you to rely on them too much.
4. Roommates will probably have different lifestyles, values, and ways of doing things. Your roommate may be particular, messy, reliable, unreliable, assertive, helpful, noisy, confused or difficult to live with. You may find it challenging to live with a new person, or it may be easy and a friendship will emerge. Rather than calling home to complain about a roommate problem, try to work things out yourself first. There are Residence Assistants who have been trained to assist in this process. You may need to talk about switching roommates if the situation becomes intolerable (e.g., if he or she is abusive, a bully, a drug user, etc.).
5. Some professors may not be as exciting and interesting as you thought they would be. While some professors are captivating lecturers, some are not. Some lead discussion classes and expect you, the student, to do a good deal of the talking. This may challenge the reserved, self-absorbed student with Asperger’s or High-Functioning Autism.
6. You may call home often, or not so often. Understanding your parents’ expectations about the kind of contact that will be maintained is important. Have a discussion about what you need as a minimum and want as a maximum of contact. Also discuss ideal conditions (e.g., times of day and days of week that respect everyone’s sleep habits, study needs, work schedules, etc.).
7. You may have trouble with reading and writing assignments. The level of writing required may be higher and in greater quantity than what was expected of you while you were in high school. You may need extra tutoring in writing, grammar, spelling, etc. Some readings may be more complex and difficult than expected. Assignments may require several readings and much more time than you allot. Thus, you may experience some anxiety about your performance. This is normal and expected.
8. You WILL be homesick at times, missing your parents and siblings, friends, and pets. You will miss old routines and structures. This, too, is normal and expected.
9. You may notice that your peers dress differently than in high school. Some have body piercings and purple hair. As you explore your identity, you may look radically different to your parents during the first vacation or two home.
10. You may feel ambivalent about dependence versus independence. You may openly ask for parent support, or you may choose not tell your mom and dad important details. They need to ask you how you are doing without prying too much – while also being accessible and open.
11. You may become excited about whole new areas of study and may change your career goals and major plans. Your mom and dad (who thought your goals and dreams were set in stone) may be surprised – or even disappointed. Again, this is common.
12. You may choose to not come home for vacations, or may not be able to do so because of cost or distance, or you might be invited elsewhere. You may decide to join campus service trips like Habitat for Humanity. If your mom and dad are looking forward to home visits, you may have to adjust your expectations. Communication about expectations is the key.
13. You may really like their advisor, or may not. If you have an advisor you do not get along with, you will most likely hesitate to ask that advisor for help. Most advisors can work well with young adults on the autism spectrum, but occasionally personalities don’t mix well. Don’t worry, because you can change advisors. Communication is the key here, even if personalities don’t match.
14. You will be confronted with different people from a variety of backgrounds. There are cultural differences, racial differences, and differences in sexual orientation, religion, values, and lifestyle. It can feel overwhelming to start over with new people. It can be hard to make new friends. However, this experience also gives you a chance to develop a new identity. There will be feelings of acceptance as well as rejection. Coping with new ideas, new people, and the possibility of rejection takes energy.
15. You will be expected to maintain your own schedules and develop good study habits. There is no one around to force you to study, to go to class, or to get a good night’s sleep. You have to create a structure that works for you!
16. You will be leaving old friends behind. But, you can keep up with them through email and home visits. In some cases, you and your friends will go your separate ways. This may surprise and sadden you, especially if you have had the same friends since grade school.
17. The food is not like home cooking. You may gain weight during the first year eating too much fat, starch and junk food – or you may lose weight because the food tastes terrible. This is just another thing that is normal and expected.
18. The college may not live up to the expectations set by the brochures and admissions counselors. Rarely does an admissions pamphlet tell all about the ins and outs, and the limits and shortcomings of the college. So, be prepared for a bit of disappointment from time to time.
19. The work is going to be hard, and you may experience your first low grades. You may have done well in high school. Most high school courses are not as demanding as college. So, you will have to learn each professor’s expectations and style of grading.
20. There are so many choices that you can be overwhelmed and may not complete projects and tasks. There are so many clubs, organizations, activities, courses, lectures, sports practices, and concerns that it is sometimes hard to decide what to go to. Work can suffer if you are spread too thin. On the other hand, studies show that judicious active involvement can help you make better use of your time and increase the quality of your work. You may not get enough sleep or may get sick because you are committed to too many groups and/or projects. So remember, balance is the key!
21. There is a maze of things to figure out (e.g., which courses to take, who to get to know, where to go for this or that). A lot of energy goes into trying to make sense of the new environment. As a result, you may feel confused and bewildered from time to time. This is what? You guessed it: normal and expected.
22. There is some promiscuous behavior and some drug use on college campuses. You have to be mature, make responsible choices, and be aware that others may not engage in the most constructive behaviors. Sometimes your roommate may want to bring his or her drug-using friends into the room. Some of your peers may even talk like “everyone else is doing it.” Keep in mind that this is their perception rather than the reality.
23. There is the stress of making a good adjustment, because you believe the future depends upon your doing well. Should you change courses, direction, or major? How can you be sure? Did you make the right choice? Putting choices into a longer-term perspective is useful. There are many people on campus that can assist you in making decisions (e.g., professors, peers, and staff).
24. There may be troubled peers who want to rely on you excessively for support, care, or nurturance. They may want to borrow some of your stuff or some money. Some peers may be very emotionally distraught and needy. This can be demanding and take a lot of your time, energy, and other resources. Keep in mind that many people on the autism spectrum tend to be gullible and unintentionally let others take advantage of them. You need to know when to say, “No” …or “I can’t help you with that,” and then refer your fellow student to the counselor or some other form of assistance.
25. While many classes are small, you may feel overwhelmed by large classes. You may be the youngest person in the class or the least experienced in the subject matter. In your last year of high school, you may have been used to being the oldest and the brightest, but now college is a big shift for you. This is, again, normal and expected!