Fresher’s week for the autistic student

When I was new at De Montfort, I had an idea to write an article for the Demon newspaper about Asperger’s and starting university. When I was in my second year, I actually wrote said article for the Demon website. Come third year, and it has just occurred to me to adapt it for my blog. As follows.

As a new student, you may have been given all sorts of university related advice. Make the most of it, have fun, work hard, play hard…sound familiar? But being on the autistic spectrum can make a new and busy environment feel more bewildering than exciting. So if you’re unsure what to make of it all, here are just a few things to bear in mind.

Don’t rush into joining social groups.

Joining societies is an easy way to make time for what you enjoy doing the most, as well as an opportunity to get to know people. Remember, though, that the university lifestyle is a busy one, so you may want to get accustomed to your routine first. Societies are always worth a try, but make sure you know you have time before you make any definite decisions.

Be open and matter-of-fact about your condition.

That doesn’t mean it should be the first thing you tell people, but when the opportunity arises it will help them understand any difficulties you have. If you are talking with someone about your uni experience so far, explain that you are autistic and struggle with change or being around lots of people. Similarly if anyone is confusing you, explain that you are autistic and ask them to repeat what they just said. They will understand you better, and you never know if they are having similar experiences.

Look for opportunities

May sound simple, but as an Aspie, retaining information that hasn’t been told to me directly is something I’ve always found hard. Listening out for events that your lecturers might mention or noticing posters or Facebook announcements is a good start. However, if you’re like me, it might be easier if you think about what sort of opportunities you are interested in (social events, work experience, voluntary work, etc.) and research them.

Don’t take on more than you can manage

You may feel like there is a lot of pressure to join societies and be as sociable as possible. Do go a little way out of your comfort zone if it means finding activities you enjoy, but don’t push yourself so hard that you are too exhausted to enjoy yourself – or, more importantly, study. Most students’ goals for uni are to learn as best as they can and have fun, so don’t be too busy to manage either!

Chat to people

It might feel difficult, but if you look around you during a lecture, these are the people you will be working with for the next three or four years. Don’t worry if you take a while to make friends – this is surprisingly common. When you sit next to someone, introduce yourself. Ask them where they’re from, what they think of any work that’s been set, how they’re finding uni, and be prepared for them to ask you the same. Remember to listen as well, when it’s their turn to talk, and try to show an interest in what they are saying!

Hope that was helpful. Now go on and make the most of it!

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Giving blood. Or not.

When I give blood, I always feel a little nervous. Not just about the actual donation but the self-explanatory finger prick test beforehand, which ascertains whether your iron levels are high enough to donate. Needless to say, the test is as quick as flicking a light switch, my iron levels are always rosy (pun fully intended) and before I know it I’m stuffing my face with biscuits after a successful donation.

Only yesterday it didn’t go as I had planned. Let me start from the beginning. Only the previous day, my old friend/desk partner Katy and I had agreed to meet up for lunch. I mentioned to her that I was hoping to give blood later and did she want to come and keep me company? As it turned out, she was planning to give blood once back at uni, and was now understandably in two minds about whether to stick to that plan, or go ahead and join me.

So Katy came along for the ride thinking she might try it, and I thought to myself, I’ll show her how it’s done, set the example, you know. We arrived, filled in the paperwork, drank lots of water, and then separately went to have our fingers pricked. Blood oozing on my finger, I waited with the nurse for the blood in the chemicals to sink within 15 seconds with the weight of all the iron. Like last time, it didn’t. Unlike last time, the following sample taken from my arm didn’t prove the test wrong, and showed that my iron levels were too low. What?! The nurse kept telling me not to worry. Bit late for that…In hindsight, fretting about any danger associated with the sterilising solution getting into either of the pricks on my skin was stupid. As many blood donating nurses must know, when I worry, I natter all kinds of rubbish.

Katy, meanwhile, was hooked up to a needle wondering why I was taking so long. I sat beside her and lamented my tale of woe. This was not how it was supposed to be. I was going to donate, and she – now shifting between sympathy and smugness (!!!) – had only come to keep me company! I hadn’t bargained for any role reversal. I could only point out the irony to her, to which she replied: the IRON-y. Ha, ha, ha.

After a reviving snack/consolation prize of biscuits and crisps, we left. I had entered feeling protective of my friend in her state of nervousness, but also rather pleased with all the successful donations behind me. I can’t deny I think my head will take a while to re-inflate. Not helped by a certain friend of mine saying I needed to have her back in case she felt dizzy. Because, you know, she HAD just given blood. I wish I could find a billion responses to that, but right now, I only have one: Katy, I really hope you are reading this and feeling suitably satisfied. Because this one’s for you.