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How to Help Someone With Autism Navigate College Stress

Applying for college and learning to live independently is challenging enough for most high school-aged students. But for those who have autism, navigating a college routine can be even more stressful. Knowing how to help someone who has autism to manage the college stress they are likely to experience can help streamline their entire university experience.

Challenges College Students With ASD Face

As a college student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it is not uncommon to face numerous challenges as you adjust to your new surroundings and routine. Some of the most commonly reported struggles that college students with ASD report include:

  • Organization struggles: People on the ASD spectrum may have difficulties getting and remaining organized. Staying organized may feel overwhelming, especially when it comes to managing schedules, textbooks, and assignments.

  • Executive function trouble: Depending on their diagnosis, some college students who have ASD may find it difficult to conduct executive functions, such as planning goals, maintaining jobs, or even having a healthy social life.

  • Distractions: It’s not uncommon for those who are on the spectrum to find it challenging to focus. They may find it difficult to pay attention and not get distracted by chaotic social settings or loud noises in public.

  • Routine changes: Some people on the ASD spectrum may adjust better to new routines than others. Others, however, may find it excruciating as they adjust to a college routine that is vastly different from their routine at home.

Assisting your friend as they navigate their way through a new college setting can provide them with peace of mind and the confidence they need to keep going.

Get Educated

Learning about the autism spectrum can provide you with valuable insight into how to properly navigate and, eventually, communicate with a peer who has ASD. Familiarize yourself with the spectrum as well as behaviors and communication methods used for various degrees of autism. Learn what the autism spectrum means, and how different environments can trigger a host of responses, depending on the individual’s own needs. When you are familiar with the ASD spectrum, knowing how to effectively communicate and which methods are best will come much more naturally.

Provide Mental and Emotional Support

Often, the adjustment period to a new routine is difficult. For a college student with ASD, it may actually feel intensified, especially if they have a set routine at home or have difficulties spending time in large groups of people and in public. 

Providing mental and emotional support to your friends on the autism spectrum is one of the most helpful actions you can take as they learn to readjust to the college lifestyle. Lending a listening ear and moral support, and always being there for your friend can help to keep their mental health in check. If your friend struggles with the chaotic surroundings at college, attempt to find solutions with quiet spaces and even by meeting up together for a peaceful lunch. Working with your friend to meet their needs can go a long way when it comes to adjusting to their new way of life.

As more research is conducted, more findings support the connection between autism and addiction. Knowing how to provide your friends with the mental and emotional support they may need may prevent codependency issues and substance abuse issues down the road. When mental health is ignored, people become much more susceptible to developing a range of addictions and detrimental behaviors. In some cases, your friend may require a rehabilitation treatment program to face their addiction if it is not prevented altogether.

Help Them to Get Organized

A major struggle reported by many who are on the autism spectrum is the ability to stay organized due to experiencing sensory overload or feeling overwhelmed in public places. Getting organized is extremely important for college students to stay on track with assignments and hectic schedules. If you have a friend on the spectrum, offer to help them to organize their papers, books, and class schedules. You can also offer to help them reorganize files and paperwork over time, especially if they struggle to maintain order throughout the semester. It’s best first to check with your friend to ensure that you are not overstepping any boundaries. Establishing a relationship built on trust and understanding is key for those on the spectrum who are uncomfortable in unfamiliar environments.

Offer to Host Hyperfocused Study Sessions

For those with ASD, sensory overload is not uncommon, especially in public places or spaces that are overcrowded. If your friend with ASD is struggling to keep up in class, offer to host a hyperfocused study session. This can include an environment that is completely free from external disruptions, music, and crowds to keep sensory overload at a minimum.

Providing a quiet, peaceful place for your friend with ASD to study can help them to feel calm and at ease, especially if they feel overwhelmed during busy classes. Planning a study session is also a great opportunity to help your friend on the spectrum to connect with others who prefer studying in peace. Introducing a familiar environment that mimics the home life of your friend can also help to make the adjustment period into college that much easier.

By knowing the challenges that ASD college students face, you can better identify when they are in need of assistance. 


Sources – 4 Challenges Students With Autism Face in College – The Hidden Link Between Autism and Addiction – Communication Challenges in College Students With ASD – College & Autism: Insight and Resources for Students with ASD