Top Tips on How to Prepare for College with Autism

David Petrovic, my son, is a 24-year-old middle school teacher with autism and Tourette syndrome who graduated cum laude and loved his college experience. He and I joined forces and found what worked for him. Seeking to help others in their same quest, David and I have co-authored our life journey and have evolved to public speaking. Today, let us briefly share our advice on how David got the most out of college from each of our perspectives.

Top Tips on How to Prepare for College with Autism https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/preparation-for-college-with-autism/

SANDY: Take a look at my tips for what to look for and how to prepare your child with autism for the future.

What to look for:

  • A program of academic support (level 2, if possible) with accommodations and tutoring
  • Desirable extracurricular activities that can evolve into social niches
  • Small class sizes with approachable professors
  • A living situation that suits your teen’s needs and likes (including the potential for a single room, if desired)
  • Logistically able to visit home, and vice versa, as needs or desires dictate

How to prepare:

  • Students might benefit from taking a study-skills class or working with professionals to perfect study techniques, paper-writing skills, and test preparation
  • Students should refer to class syllabi often
    • They should work on assignments and prep for exams well in advance
    • They should practice this skill while still in high school
  • Find tutors or ways to make abstract concepts “see-able”
  • Transition your teen to every facet of college—not just to the academics
    • The studies: possibly decrease the course load first semester to enable acclimation and increase confidence
      • Consider the timing of courses and the style of scheduled professors
    • The campus and environment: provide orientation in addition to the formal visit
    • Mentor your teen to learn and practice life skills prior to living on campus
      • Cleaning, laundry, money management…
      • Some elements can be deferred or presented stepwise to prevent overwhelming him or her!
    • Allow for transitioning your teen to increased independence, increased academic demands, and more decision making
      • The student might consider a 2-step approach, such as:
        • Attending community college for a year before baccalaureate studies
        • Living at home for the first year before moving to campus
      • Students must learn to advocate for their needs
        • This needs to be practiced in high school (or earlier)
        • Your teen needs to understand his/her needs before he/she can explain them to others!
        • Realize that needs are ongoing and evolve throughout life!

My message to parents (and hardest for me!):

  • Change from micromanagers to coaches…and learn to let go!

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DAVID: Your child made it to college! Now what? Take a look at my advice to new college students who are on the autism spectrum.

  • The student can learn from the mistakes of his/her high school career and can make changes accordingly
  • Your teen should NOT wait for social opportunities and people to come to him or her
    • Students should take the initiative to introduce themselves to others!
      • This gets easier with practice
    • They should get involved in extracurricular activities immediately
  • Know that not every student will always like every other student…AND THAT’S OK!
    • College is big enough to avoid conflict and find friends and a social niche
  • Students should not procrastinate!
  • Your teen needs to know himself/herself!
    • When a break is needed, he or she should take it!
    • Students need to learn how to balance it all
      • Planning is important!
      • Trial and error is OK
      • The student should make changes until it works for him or her
    • Your teen should NOT be shy or embarrassed to get the help that he or she needs (academically, emotionally, or socially)
      • Reaching his or her potential is at stake!
      • Why NOT take advantage of tutoring, supports, and accommodations?

My message to parents:

  • College students WANT your input and interest
    • BUT: know when to pull back!

Be proud of the unique, gifted, and wonderful individual your teen is!

Your support to him or her is invaluable!

Sandy Petrovic, RN, BSN, is a proud mother of three, a registered nurse, and a public speaker. She is a tutor/instructional advisor at a college academic support center for students with learning differences.

David Petrovic, BA, is a motivational speaker who has presented on numerous topics in multiple states and delivered a TEDx Talk in 2016. He is a middle school teacher who is certified in language arts, and he is pursuing a graduate certificate in theology. He seeks to teach junior high or high school theology and is discerning the Catholic priesthood/diaconate.

This article was featured in Issue 75 – Helping Your Child with Autism Thrive

David Petrovic BA

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