One of the many misconceptions about autistic people is that we just ‘think differently’ when in actual fact, many of us are dealing with an entirely different cognitive reality that affects the way we experience the world. This means that life changing events like starting university can present a unique set of challenges for us. As an autistic student I have encountered and overcome some of the many difficulties that face neurodivergent people when making the transition to higher education.
My name is Rosie (she/her) and I’m here to share with you some of the tips I wish I had known when I first started university. I’m currently starting my third and final year of my undergraduate degree in English Literature. Reflecting on how I felt before I started university I was so excited yet apprehensive about adapting to a completely new way of life and meeting new people. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to deal with the unfamiliarity of a new place, a new routine, new people and new things to learn. I’ve learnt a lot since then about managing these worries and daily challenges to maintain a study-life balance.
As well as learning how to be an independent learner, I’ve also learnt a lot about myself and developed so much as a person. Everyone’s journey of growth and personal development whilst at university is unique, hopefully these study and wellbeing tips will help you along your own journey and make that exciting yet daunting road ahead more manageable!
Help and Support Available in Catalyst
It’s a great idea to take a look at what the university can offer you in terms of support so you know what’s available to you and where to go if you need help or advice. Before coming to university I found it really difficult to ask for help when I was struggling, but I’ve learnt that it’s a skill that’s challenging yet vital to practice and knowing where and who to go to makes it a lot easier! Here I’m going to share with you some of the support networks provided in Catalyst and how they can help you…
The UniSkills Team were a fantastic help when I first started university and have continued to support my academic progress throughout my degree. They run helpful workshops and one-to-one appointments (both in person and online) for support with academic writing and information skills. In these sessions they can help you adapt to writing and studying at degree level. There are a lot of new skills that are important to learn when you first start university such as referencing, finding academic resources and dealing with assessments. One of the biggest worries of mine was that I would be too nervous to do well in group projects and assessed presentations. I used to dread the thought of presentations before I started university but now with the help of the UniSkills Team and my department, presentations are something I actually really enjoy doing as a way of demonstrating my knowledge. I also took part in the UniSkills workshops on Academic Resilience where I learned some of the most insightful information that has continued to help me face challenges and manage anxiety whilst thriving academically.
SpLD and Inclusion Team
The SpLD and Inclusion teams are support networks designed to support students who experience disabilities and medical conditions, helping them to thrive at university. I first met with the teams before I started university to discuss what types of support could be put in place for me at university and how I could better adjust to university life. They were so helpful and reassuring and I’ve had regular contact with them throughout my degree to make any necessary changes to my support plan.
I first contacted the Wellbeing Team in my second year of university and they helped me through difficult times when I felt so lost and overwhelmed with managing my university workload, as well as everything I was going through that was impacting my studies. Since finishing my counselling outside of university, they’ve reassured me that they will be there to provide me with support should I need it. They helped me access a wide range of resources offered by the university that I previously didn’t know about!
My Top Study Tips
Literature has always provided me with a safe space and many comforting hyperfixations in a world that can be overwhelming and overstimulating. Starting university I was so eager to start learning about my specialist subject that I didn’t realise just how much I’d have to learn outside of my course in order to adapt to university life. It was all a lot to take in alongside learning how to study independently, how to manage my time effectively, prioritise tasks and establish a work life balance.
I’ve learnt that being a routine loving autistic works to my advantage when managing my time effectively, but it doesn’t always help when things don’t go to plan and my to-do list becomes seemingly never-ending and overwhelming! Changes to plans and to routines can be distressing so here are some tips to help you schedule and manage anxiety when things don’t go to plan:
- Make some new academic year resolutions such as things you’d like to achieve, changes you’d like to make or any new study habits you’d like to develop
- Take care of your environment and create yourself a safe space that you can relax in if you’re feeling overwhelmed or need a break somewhere calm
- Make use of silent study spaces and study space bookings, these can be great if you experience sensory difficulties or find it hard to study around lots of people and noise
- Plan ahead to avoid overwhelm. Planning too far ahead can cause distress so leave room for flexibility and start by planning at the beginning of each week until you establish a solid routine
- Research useful apps and tools that can help with executive disfunction and planning such as calendar and study apps that encourage you to stay off your phone!
- Schedule and timetable visually, use a wall planner or an academic diary
- Break down big to-do lists in order of short term, mid-term and long-term goals to help you prioritise tasks
- Daily preparation helps – getting your bag ready for the next day the night before and getting into the habit of having a morning routine will help you feel more organised
- Create an evening routine that helps you to wind down so you can establish that your body needs rest if it’s something your brain struggles to communicate
By Rosie Sumner