Embarking on the journey that is your university education is an experience that anyone can describe as thrilling and exciting – as well as completely and utterly terrifying. Obviously, it’s clear that we’re well into the first semester; almost half way in fact (scary, I know!). However, for someone with autism, one may need a little more time and some extra help settling in compared to their peers. After all, starting university is stressful and nerve-wracking for any young person, let alone someone on the spectrum! So, as a second year with Asperger’s Syndrome in University College Cork, I’ve compiled some tips for any autistic student, school-leaver or mature student who may be feeling a little on edge at the moment…
Be Proud of Yourself!
Congratulations, you’re a college student! How cool is that? You’re finally studying something you love and enjoy (and if you’re not, know that there are back doors into everything, but I’ll get into that) in an exciting new environment full of lots of different people where hundreds of new opportunities await you! Sound scary? Let me help with that.
Familiarise Yourself With Your Surroundings
One of the main reasons people find starting university so scary is because everything is new and unfamiliar. So, it’s important that you do your research and know where all the important buildings are, as well as the ones you’re going to be in the most often. For example:
- The Boole Library is in the centre of campus – you most likely got a tour of it during your orientation day, but even if you didn’t, it’s hard to miss!
- The Main Rest is just up past the Library – to the right of it if you’re facing the Library with the Quad behind you. Upstairs in the Main Rest is known as the Mini Rest, by the way, if you hear it.
- The Students’ Union offices are to your left after you walk up the path in between the Library and the O’Rahilly Building (aka the ORB – the huge building to the left of the Library). As well as all the offices of the SU being there, this is also where you go to get a Student Leap Card, condoms, and where the SU common room is! This is usually a really quiet spot on campus to chill out, and they also have a microwave, should you need it for your lunch.
- The Admissions, Undergraduate, Postgraduate and Exams & Records offices are all upstairs in the West Wing. The West Wing is the section of the stone building to the left of the Quad if you’re facing the Quad with the Library behind you. Once you go through the big double doors and head upstairs, everything’s well sign-posted, so you should find what you’re looking for easily enough.
- Offices for every department and college within the University are located in various spots around campus; offices for both the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences (CACSSS) and the College of Business and Law are based in the O’Rahilly Building, with CACSSS on the ground floor and B&L on the third floor. The College of Science, Engineering and Food Science (SEFS) is on the third floor of the Food Science Building, which is behind the Kane Building (which is straight past the Main Rest), and the College of Medicine and Health is based in the Brookfield Health Sciences Complex (BHSC), on College Road in between the Poor Clare Monastery and Brookfield Student Village.
- UCC’s resident GP, counselling and physio services can all be availed of at the Department of Student Health, which is directly across the road from the gates by the Students’ Union offices. The Chaplaincy is next door to Student Health, which offers free tea and coffee in their kitchen as well as a quiet and calm space to chat or study, in addition to a prayer room upstairs.
Anywhere you feel may be important to you during the year, locate it and pick a noticeable landmark near it so you’ll know where it is next time. My sister isn’t autistic, but she was understandably nervous about starting college up in Galway, so the day she moved into her accommodation, we travelled up to the university campus and located every building she had a lecture in so she knew where she was going in advance, and it really helped!
Other important services to know of would include the nearest hospital (Cork University Hospital is the nearest public hospital, which is up by Wilton; the 214 bus from Patrick Street goes direct to it), pharmacy (one on College Road, by Daybreak, and another on the Western Road side at Victoria Cross, near Victoria Lodge, Victoria Mills, University Hall, etc.), where students go out most (ask anyone, there’s an abundance of options! – pubs like the Old Oak, The Rock, basically any venue on Washington Street, and plenty more!), and the number for a local taxi service (Satellite Taxis, Cork Taxi Co-Op, and ABC Taxis are just a few examples).
It’s also important to get to know Cork City, as you’ll be visiting it often, trust me! Get to know the bus routes in and out (most likely the 208, 220 and/or the 205), take a walk around the city yourself and locate the places you think you’ll visit the most often, e.g. fast food, restaurants, cafés and shops.
Develop a Routine
One of the most characteristic traits of an autistic person is how heavily we rely on routine. This is another area where new students feel anxious, as your timetable is most likely not as structured as it was in secondary school. So take a few days to practise a new one. Designate certain times of the day to certain tasks; for example, eat at 8am, 1pm and 6pm, or perhaps reserve every Wednesday afternoon for your extracurriculars. Everyone’s timetable will be different, so it might take a week or so to find a balance between everything, but do whatever you need to do to make things less stressful. If that means drawing out your timetable on an A3 sheet of paper, colour coding every activity, and sticking it on your wall, so be it.
Another piece of advice I would give is to practice travelling from your accommodation to college, so you can slot travel times into your routine. I lived in Victoria Lodge (at Victoria Cross, Western Road) last year, so last year I gave myself plenty of time, like 40 minutes, to walk to campus, and I timed myself along the way. Turned out it was only a 20-minute walk, but I knew that for future reference, and I was sure to allocate that amount of time in the morning for travelling to college. Even if you get a bus, same thing, time yourself, study the bus timetable, know when you need to be at the bus stop – going over and coming back. Trust me, after enough practice, this’ll all be engraved into your brain and you’ll have no issues whatsoever!
Link In With Disability Supports
UCC’s Disability Support Service (DSS) is located across from the Student’s Union offices – so to your right as you walk up that path between the Library and the ORB. You can also get there by going up the steps behind the Boole Basement – if you ever want to call in directly after a lecture, just head out the glass emergency doors (they’re not alarmed, don’t worry, everyone uses them). The DSS are an incredible bunch of people who will have endless resources to help improve your experience both in lectures and in exams – from arranging notetakers or scribes to providing you with a room on your own for exams should you need it, or even a laptop to do exams on, and everything in between! If you were accepted into the DARE (Disability Access Route to Education) Program, the college already received your supplementary documentation (e.g. psychologist’s report) when you accepted your college place. If you didn’t come through DARE, you’ll have to provide documentation proving your disability yourself when registering with their services. Once you register, you’ll meet with someone from the DSS for an assessment, just to compare the supports you received in school with what’s available to you at university. They make it all very easy for you, don’t worry!
Even if you’re not autistic, but feel you are, or perhaps you suspect you’re dyslexic, or dyspraxic? Anything like that, they’ll help you arrange an assessment with a relevant professional.
Join Clubs and Societies!
This is a hugely important one. The Societies and Clubs exhibition days may have passed, but fear not! Most university clubs and societies have social media (Facebook, usually) so if you find them and message them expressing interest in joining, they’ll tell you how! All they’ll need is your student email (umail) to sign you up to their mailing list, and boom, you’re a member! Alternatively, each club and society should have their own email address, which you can find on either societies.ucc.ie or clubs.ucc.ie. So, you can get in touch with them that way too.
I cannot recommend joining a club or society enough. It is the single best way to meet new people and make friends, which I know a lot of us find difficult to do, but the best part about clubs and societies is everyone there has a common interest, making starting a conversation with someone so much easier, as the ice is already broken!
And there you have it! They’re the most important things I believe autistic students here in UCC need to know. Believe me, I know there will be difficult days and rough starts, but honestly, one of the best skills I’ve acquired while in university is patience. If you give something enough time, while still having faith, things will begin to work out, I promise. University is an incredible experience, for so many reasons, and it’s not just limited to neurotypicals. Us autistics have just as much potential and opportunity to make university the best days of our lives as anyone else. In fact, a lot of us flourish during university, because we’re doing something we love, and disability support services are excellent.
If that isn’t reassuring enough, the day of my orientation I made the brave decision to turn to the girl sitting next to me in the lecture theatre and make some passing comment about whoever was speaking to us. I can’t remember what I even said, but we hit it off, and now she is one of my best friends as well as my roommate.
I promise, so much awaits you here in University College Cork. You’re going to have a great time. Be proud of yourself for getting this far, and try to fully believe in how much further you’ll go in the next few years.
Meagan runs a blog where she discusses life, autism, and a bit of everything in between, and you can check it out at MyFriendsCallMeMeg.Blogspot.ie