Looking for colleges is often a complex, nerve-racking, and headache-inducing experience for parents and prospective students alike. Adding Autism to the mix complicates things further.
Along with normal concerns such as location, financial aid, and majors, autism parents must also take things like the quality of the school’s disability services and the possibility of dorming into account.
While no one can guarantee a perfect match between your autistic teen and their college, here are some tips to help you both get through this harrowing time, and reduce their risk of a bad secondary education experience.
Allow Them To Lead The Search
Remember, your teen is the one heading to college, not you. They need to be as involved in the search as possible. Encourage them to list the things they’re looking for in a college and then to research campuses that fit those criteria.
As for what should be on that list, that will vary per individual. During my own college search, extenuating circumstances forced me to prioritize certain things over others. While I can’t tell your teen what to put on their list, I can tell you what was on mine.
By my senior year of high school, I was living with an incredibly abusive relative. Because of which, my number one priority was a campus far enough away that I’d be out of reach of said abusive relative.
Hopefully, your teen’s home life is more placid than mine was. Maybe for your family, a middle ground approach is best; a location close enough to be accessible in case of emergency, but far enough to offer some measure of independence.
Maybe they aren’t ready for dorm life, and commuting’s a better option. That’s up for you to decide.
Let’s be real, in the United States, unless your kid received a hefty scholarship, paying for school might involve selling stuff that makes Breaking Bad look like a children’s show. I, for one, am in debt to at least four European countries.
All jokes aside, many families will need at least some financial aid, and most of that will come in the form of loans. Sit down with your autistic teen and explain how much they will have to take out in loans and how long it might take to pay them back.
Visual would come in handy here. Simply telling them, “hey, you’ll probably have to sell yourself into indentured servitude to pay this debt off” isn’t enough. Very few eighteen year olds can properly conceptualize numbers with more than three zeros attached.
For me, money (or a lack thereof) necessitated my choosing a school within state boundaries.
Support can mean a number of things. For me, it meant two: people I knew and disability services.
I ended up choosing the college I did because one of my best friends attended there. I had never been away from home, so having someone I knew around dramatically eased my transition.
When I visited the campus, the first place I went was the disability services office. I wanted to know what help they could provided me, the quality of the help, and under which circumstances could that help be delivered.
Most college disability offices are located in inconvenient areas, (the one at my school was buried in the basement of the English department), so you’ll likely have to ask around.
Trial And Error
As I said earlier, this was my list but location, money, and support services are universal concerns for parents of teens with disabilities. However, you’ll still have to do your research, make many phone calls, and spend way too much time on Google in order to find the right fit for your teen.