Home > Adults with autism, Autism Speaks U > Living in the College Dorms with Autism

Living in the College Dorms with Autism

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started an Autism Speaks U Chapter: Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

One issue, in my opinion, that isn’t addressed enough on college campuses, is accommodations within the residence halls for those with disabilities. Yes, from time to time you will see a residence hall with an elevator, maybe bed shakers for those who are hearing impaired, but does that make a residence hall “disability friendly?” I don’t think so. A disability friendly residence hall should be accommodating to all disabilities, especially autism.

For people just starting college, living away in a dorm can be a difficult transition. For an individual with autism who is affected drastically by change it can make that transition almost impossible. The argument to this, is that those affected by autism who actually attend college are just a small enough quota where it doesn’t really matter. The thing is, most accommodations for those with autism in the dorms just rely on having a good and understanding friend. It’s easy in college to fall into a pattern of anti-social tendencies when work builds up on you.

I have seen this from every angle imaginable. My freshman year in the dorms, I was a resident. During my sophomore and half of my junior year, I was a Resident Assistant (RA) who helped residents while living in the dorms. Living in the residence halls wasn’t much of a difficulty for me, but that was because I had great friends early on who supported me in everything that I did. Being able to socially get my way through that first year, where I was seen as enough of a leader to be one of the only autistic RA’s not only in New Jersey, but in the country.

So what can autistic individuals living in the dorms do to make themselves ready for the transition? Firstly, strongly consider requesting a single room. Most colleges are very willing to give someone with a registered disability a single. I have lived alone and have loved the benefits. Mainly, the best benefit is that you have your own place to unwind. You don’t have to worry about whether you get along with other individuals. The pros outweigh the cons in most cases.

Secondly, make sure you get yourself out there. Most residence halls have programs within the first couple of weeks of school to get people meeting your fellow peers. Most residence halls will also have a peer support group for those with disabilities where you can interact with others who have similar difficulties within the dorms. We also live in a technology related world, so if you don’t feel comfortable with face to face conversations, virtual communication (Facebook, instant messaging, texting) is a great way to practice your social capabilities. Just make sure it doesn’t become a habit, if you are never leaving your room!

Take some time to meet with the director of your dorm. If you are open with them about having a disability, they can’t turn you away, and have to give you proper accommodations. You need to force yourself out of your comfort zone because that’s where the most progress can be made.

Now, this is a process. There is no game plan to every disability. You have to create your own plan of attack. Independence is not learned overnight either, so take the steps needed to make your own personal plan and then follow through.

(This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at kerry.magro@autismspeaks.org. Thanks everyone!)

  1. Adam Vogel
    October 4, 2010 at 10:57 am

    When I participated in Project Assist’s transition program at UW-Whitewater it was a tough experience for me. I think how much I’ve changed as a person since I went to UW-Whitewater in the summer of 2002 to the end of 2009 and I wished I could of had the opportunity to living in the dorms during my last years in college. I just can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I’ve graduated from college for the second time.

    I want to wish you good luck in trying to find a job Kerry because the job market is especially tough right now for people who just graduated from college. I just wish that had some job experience and would have enough money to study and pass the CPA exam.

  2. Eselina Barnett
    October 4, 2010 at 11:16 am

    dear Kerry,
    Thank you so much for this article. I am a parent of a high functioning son with autism. he is very bright and aspires to go to college. he wants to be a scientist. my worry is that he will get taken advantage of in college, and also deciding which colleges to apply to. should he take the chance and go to a college away from home or should he go to a college where it is convienent for him and me to be able to get to eachother if need be. I have a lot of questions regarding preparing for college. he is a junior and I would like to start preparing him now. so if you have any more suggestions any at all for his i.e.p., classes, accomodations anything please contact me.

    thank you…

  3. arwynquandry
    October 4, 2010 at 11:34 am

    I’m a Sophomore with Asperger’s Syndrome. I spent my freshman year mostly alone with one or two close friends (and my then-boyfriend). I couldn’t relate to most others on campus and didn’t feel comfortable joining student clubs after bad experiences in high school and not getting along well with those my own age.

    A lifesaver for me was finding groups off-campus that had a wider age range for me to interact with and more opportunities. Since I’m on an urban campus this was easier than it might be out in the country, but made me so much more comfortable. I’m connected to those who share my interests this year.

  4. Kim
    October 5, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Thank you for your article. I have a son with Autism (high functioning). And I’m unsure what his future may hold. He is very bright. He brought his progress report home yesterday and had straight A’s. He just started middle school this year (6th grade). Yesterday, I picked him up from school to take him to the orthodontist. On the way to his appointment, he said he hated riding the bus. I asked him why. And he said that no one sits with him on the bus or talks to him. I asked him why he didn’t try to initiate the conversation with the other kids on the bus. He said he didn’t like to. It really breaks my heart. Some of the kids who are now in 8th grade used to play with him when he was younger because they live near us. He doesn’t talk to them now I guess because they are older. He’s really struggling with wanting to fit in with the other kids at school. I wanted him to join a club particularly the builder’s club because it’s a service organization. And my son loves helping other people in need. But he didn’t want to. He struggles with socialization and I think he has a fear of having to socialize. Thanks again for your article. We are trying to make it through our first year in middle school, another major transition.

    • November 10, 2011 at 9:32 pm

      My youngest son was diagnosed three years ago with Autism/ADHD and a friend introduced me to a natural product made primarily from milk.
      I used this product and saw results in two months. Today my son shows no signs of Autism/Adhd, he is doing great in school and takes the initiative to do everything, truly a turnaround from the way he used to be. After the production of this milk it is the closest to mother’s milk and it is recognized by many Doctors today, if anyone is interested in finding out more about this, please email me at asha.persaud@gmail.com. Thank you.

  5. May 18, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    What a wonderful article, thank you! I have heard that bean bag chairs are wonderful for children with autism, and I have often thought that college age students with autism would like them as well. I wonder if there are any colleges out there that would consider having bean bag chairs for students with disabilities.

  6. Leiontine Myers
    June 16, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    As many of our children reach the age of majority one in 10 of these children become an adult with Autism or other DD diagnosis. As the years go by this statistical number increases. Now try looking for a college, certificate program or other career training program for your adult child with a disabling condition. If you can afford upwards of $70,000 a year there are some 24 hr care facilities that have partners that will employ your child after they transition for a few years (and $140, 000.) in this institutional based structure. These so called colleges do not qualify for student aid and are not accredited for a degree program. This population of people will be 10% of our workforce, yet we are not prepared to teach them anything beyond High School. As a parent and a professional working with the disabled, I am disheartened and after 18 years of advocating and fighting for the best education in the least restrictive environment, my son is entering a workforce population that has a 71% unemployment rating according to the office of unemployment statistics(1998). So, 2.9 people out of that 10% will find some type of work. Is this truly the future legacy I give to my son? How many businesses in the area you live in will consider allowing your disabled son or daughter to work for them? Is it paying at a sub-minimum –wage? In 20 years will my son be able to support himself, pay his rent, telephone, electricity and buy food? What happens when I am no longer on this earth to meet his needs? Will he get oversensitised in public and end up with a criminal record? Will he end up in a care facility for the rest of his life? I realize this sounds very negative but this is comming from a frustrated mother of a son with high functioning autism. I live in coastal oregon and behond voc rehab and paper shedding opperations there are few options. I will continue to be the outspoken diving force to change things in my community. I want a few simple things for my children…A decent job, a home of their own, someone to love them and children if they can care for them. This does not change because of Autism. It just makes mom fight harder to see things change for everyone with a disability who wants an education and decent employment.

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