Student Autism

Jack Crouch discusses what it's like to be a student with autism and Royal Holloway and how to get support.

University as a student with High Functioning Autism (HFA) is daunting at times.

Growing up as a kid who went from medical test to medical test during my infant years after diagnosis, and, more recently, being thrust from a special school with 82 pupils to a university of over 9,000 students has been a challenge to deal with. Specifically when you don’t know anyone in your halls, or your classes, for the first few weeks.

When going on a night out and there’s the rush of people queuing to get through at the gate. You get in and you’re confronted with flashing colours and music that dominates over what your friends are talking about. What are they saying? Who was that person who shouted at you across the SU? Are they angry or happy? Why should you care? All you want to do is get back to your room and seclude yourself for the next 10 years at this rate.

I should probably talk about the social side of things, which is one of the most known “quirks” about autism. The truth is, communicating yourself to neurotypical individuals who may not understand can be hard at times. You either communicate fine, or it comes across as being shy and awkward. At the end of those conversations, you feel that you should’ve spoke more eloquently or not even bothered. If you’ve planned those key phrases in your head to say to someone like a deck of flashcards, you may as well throw them on the floor if you haven’t planned for someone to ask you a question you might not know. What about the deadlines? Try fitting that into attempting to see people near daily without worrying over if your work is satisfactory or not. The little things matter a lot when you’re pressed about them.

OK, I know the above seems like an extreme episode of sensory overload, but I’ve known a lot of people with similar diagnoses like mine feel this way, no matter how little or big it was. I also know it doesn’t sound like a lot of positives either, but I felt it was important to get the nitty-gritty out of the way before I concentrate on the positives. Again, these issues may or may not be important depending how well you cope with them.

What’s good about having High Functioning Autism at times is managing to focus on details. Having a literal mind helps in some places where you’re meant to think laterally. Studying Geography forces me to think about theories, the world, and attempt to string them together. If you don’t get entranced from stringing two different ideas together, you’ll be fine.

Funnily enough, having HFA has allowed me to cope well socially at times! I may not share some of same interests as many of my friends, but that’s fine. Structuring what I need to say helps me through a conversation, even if I need to pause and recollect. On the topic of interests, the different societies at university have allowed me to focus them and get the best from what I love.

Finally, the support at university has been great. The Disability and Dyslexia service have made me comfortable through making sure I have the right arrangements, advice on housing and my studies. My department have also given me support with essay and coursework feedback, clarifying on what I need to be doing. There is so much support here if you are diagnosed, and I guess the point I stress from this, is not to be afraid to ask for it. I’ve learnt from many awkward social encounters, states of confusion over work and perplexing nights out to not let down my guard, and better myself. It’s a never-ending learning process with autism, but on days when you’re feeling blue, just remember that a hand is always there for you.