So, hello everyone, first off I want to appologise in case this post is not as good as it should be but I am writing it now both because I was inspired by something I heard and don’t want the idea to run away with me, but I am also writing this now, when I should probably be doing University work because I am at home ill. I seem to have the kind of bug where I feel reasonably ok to do things most of the time but I can’t eat. Not being able to eat (the bug part of the bug) means that, on day four of eating next to nothing, I am very lethargic and feeling a little shaky and weak most of the time. I have done some work for Uni classes but I stupidly distributed my energy today badly meaning that I worked on my own craft project for a god bit this morning and now that I have persuaded myself I should probably do something worthwhile I have totally run out of energy and can’t think properly to do Uni work. Great. So I thought I might as well try and use some time working on a blog post and trying to carry on my good streak of posting. I’m not sure I’ll write it all in one go as I usually do but this is much easier as (in case you couldn’t already tell) I make this up as I go. I like to think it gives a bit more of a genuine feel – especially as I am the type of person that writing my thoughts is much easier than trying to speak them.
Anyway, this post idea came to me when I binged Series 3 of Atypical at the weekend. This isn’t my favourite tv show and definitely not my favourite autism show but I keep up with it. I am not about to talk about this tv show really, what I want to talk about is a fact which I heard on the show. I fact checked this and then converted it into british stats and I can say I wasn’t surprised by the stats but I had hoped they were better.
What were these stats? In the tv programme it was mentioned that four out of five US college students with ASD will not graduate. In the UK this statistic is slightly better with 40% of ASD University students completing their degree. So 60% of us ASD people who go to University in the UK don’t get to the end of the degree we are studying, to me that number is not surprising but sadening. One of the common things in ASD people is our desire to learn, we have very specialised minds and the ability to learn and focus on things which are very niche, or learn huge amounts of information on the things we love. We are some of the best learners, we are highly capable of being the specialist in a field of knowledge, and yet many of us leave University before we get to the stage that we can become experts. It seems very wrong that an environment where we should feel at home is the same environment we are not staying in.
I didn’t do much research to see if we know why so many of us leave University but I can imagine many of them. There are problems with remembering schedules, remembering to check dates and times, remembering when to hand in work or if a class has been changed. Unlike at High School (or at least the understanding I have of High School) there is no one telling you to write down due dates in your school-issued diary planner. There are no set work times, you are not in the Uni building from 9 till 3:30 each day, you have to do so much work on your own, it is up to you if you learn the materials. Other issues might be in the type of work, it might be complex and hard to get your head around the terminology which your lecturer has talked at you for two hours at a time, you may zone out only to discover the lecturer has asked you a question and then you are stuck, praying that you can think of something that makes sense with only seconds to come up with it.
There is also the social side of University, unlike school you don’t spend five days a week with these people. You might get invited to events at the beginning but after you have declined a few times – because you don’t know these people yet and even if you did sudden plan-changes are a big issue – they stop asking you. You find them joking about things that you don’t understand and soon those people that you thought liked you, well, you start getting hints that may not be the case. You get paranoid about what they might really think of you and it brings up traumatic memories of bullying in the past. The people in your course don’t seem overly interested in talking about the subject you are studying, some you aren’t sure even like the topic, and your other hobbies and things you enjoy are too weird or specialised for these people, you don’t like the things associated with your age necessarily and that is hard.
You see all these examples above? Did you notice that a lot of them were oddly specific? I am 62.5% (so I was reliably told) through my history degree and these are all things I have and still am experiencing. Genuinely I feel I am lucky that I am managing to stay on top of all the hard things that come with University, I understand how so much of it can be overwhelming and a lot of work for us ASD folks. I’m not entirely sure why I am getting through it. I am often surprised when I get out of a termly freak-out-breakdown-emotional shutdown- thing that I am able to surface again, enjoy a little bit of the holiday and then I am bored and in need of going back to Uni. I am already aware that my university schedual which is made up of two fourteen week terms in a year – yes, that’s it! – is having a serious impact on my mental health. I struggle to have a break, I struggle to truly spend a day doing nothing but relaxing, I have a constant feeling of guilt if I am not doing the work I should be doing and the matching anger when other classmates can start work three days before it is due and remain sane. The intensity of these short terms can’t be good for anyone, the sudden stress and need to focus doesn’t allow for any form of error. I am very glad that this term I don’t have any exams at the end of term because exams don’t give any option to be ill. You have to be a superhuman, you have to get to every class, have read three or more chapters of books per class per week, you have to take a deep breathe before reading essay feedback which is blunt and to the point, often leaving you upset.
I go to a university that has a very good reputation for supporting students with additional needs, and it is very good for the most part, but the support of the university does not necessarily flow on to the lecturers who seem to forget we are living beings. This does make me wonder, however, what it is like in a less supportive University.
We should thrive in an environment which allows us to learn and research the specific subjects we are good at and enjoy but instead many of us are faced with a wall to climb. There is this idea that being an ‘Adult’ automatically means those of us who need support in specific ways no longer have those needs because ‘adults’ don’t. There is no real understanding that we need to transition, we need to have a way of getting through it all at a pace that makes sense and with less assumptions. We need to have social support too, it is tough when you don’t have people fighting your corner. This is something I am learning at Uni that I did not have at College. In my College class most of the people got on well, we were supportive of each other and our lecturers were not only actually present in our classes (unlike many of mine) but they were people, the taught rather than read from a piece of paper, they learned what we found hard and knew about the lives we led. Some members of my classes are very nice people, some are kind and the type I would consider friends but there is only one social group in our class due to its side and almost all members are part of it. A girl that left the course about a month ago confided in me that the course was enjoyable but that she was doing a huge amount of travelling to attend each week and she was feeling down because no one really spoke to her at all. I totally understand her feelings, and feel myself that those I thought of as friends when we were away in Germany earlier this year, didn’t have the opinion of me I thought they did.
The work is tough. The organization is tough. The work is tough. The understanding is tough. The social side is tough. University is tough.
I don’t have an answer to this issue, I don’t know if we could make it any better as much as I would like to. I guess, this is my homage to those amongst the ASD world who have tried University and not failed, but been failed by the system. You did your part, they didn’t necessarily do theirs.
Thanks for reading everyone, I hope this is interesting to you all and I hope you get something out of these posts. Please let me know about your thoughts on this statistic, have you attended Uni? Do you plan to? What you’d name your next pet…? (Genuinely always interested in this last one, but I also miss hearing from you guys, I know you’re out there and I miss you all!) See you all soon 🙂