Skip to content

7 Tips for Autistic Students Starting Their College School Year

2 college students walking down the stairs on their campus, carrying books and backpacks.

At a Glance

Academic & Personal Support: Connect with the college office assisting autistic students, discuss necessary accommodations with professors, and establish productive study spaces.

Routine & Transition: Review and adapt daily routines based on the new college environment, and ensure that personal needs are communicated and met in shared living spaces.

Dorm Events & Social Interaction: Attend dorm events to meet neighbors, explore student groups for shared interests, and communicate with roommates about co-living preferences.

The start of the school year can be a tricky time no matter how far along in school you are, and college living can be one of the biggest adjustments of all. Not only is college typically a higher workload than high school, it also often represents a transition from living at home to living independently and potentially meeting a huge number of new people. 

Managing all the challenges of college can be a stressful process and colleges don’t always feel responsible for offering considerable guidance. Even if they wanted to, college can be so many different things to different people that not all advice is going to apply to you! 

If you are interested in a more in depth guide on navigating some of the challenges of college living, you can check out our free toolkit which covers a number of different topics you can follow based on your personal goals. In the meantime, here are some tips for starting the college  school year! These tips are especially applicable to incoming freshman but can be applicable any year you might be returning to school. 

You may also find that some of these tips do not necessarily align with your goals and that is OK! These tips are not hard and fast rules, just starting points worth thinking about if they make sense in the context of what you want to do. 

1. Check out the scheduled dorm events (if you have the time and energy!).

When you are just starting out the year, if you are living in a dorm there is a decent chance you’ve been presented a calendar or seen some flyers advertising dorm specific events to meet your neighbors. Seeing these events it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder whether people really go to them or if they’re worth your time. 

The answer to that question is subjective, but dorm events do have a lot going for them that make them a bit different from other kinds of events you might see around campus. 

They are typically more lowkey than a lot of events meant to appeal to the whole campus, there is typically some kind of neat low commitment activity to go with it - sometimes as simple as grabbing a slice of pizza and hanging out - and in some cases those events are put on by resident advisors who will have some icebreaker activities in mind to help spur conversation. 

As a bonus, the people you meet at these events are likely to live close by, making hangouts with new friends that much easier!

Of course, these events are still a time and energy commitment and icebreakers may or may not feel like a helpful way for you to get to know people. You shouldn’t feel obliged to go to any of these events and if they are for any reason anything other than optional then it should be the organizer’s responsibility to let you know. But they can certainly be a great way to start off the year if you are interested! 

2. Seek out student groups with shared interests (to see if they’re a good fit for you!).

Another great way to meet new people at the start of the year is to take advantage of the fact that this is also the time of the year when student groups are most aggressively advertising themselves and seeking out new members. 

Whether via an activity fair or a school directory, it can be worth seeking out some groups that have interests overlapping with yours and dipping a toe in the water to see if that group feels like a good fit based on your interests and preferences. 

A classic example would be a group devoted to gaming or even a particular game. You may find your interests overlap but that the group is way too competitive for your taste, or perhaps you are the competitive one and the group is a little too casual. 

The start of the year is an especially ideal time to do this because campus groups tend to have the expectation that not everyone who shows up at the start of the year is going to be a devoted member. At worst you may decide a group is not right for you, but at best the right student group can be an incredible source of energy and friendship! 

3. Check in with the office that is in charge of assisting Autistic students (if you have already or want to disclose your identity!).

This tip is intentionally a little bit open-ended because there is not necessarily consistency between different colleges in terms of what office supports Autistic students and who you may need to talk to for a given purpose or need. 

The ability of some schools to meet your needs might even depend on what kind of office they have. Whereas some schools have an office specifically for supporting Autistic students and may not require a diagnosis to offer you resources, some schools may support Autistic students through an office intended to support all disabled students and may require a diagnosis to assist with, for example, making sure you receive necessary accommodations. 

Knowing what is necessary in your specific situation can be crucial, which is why it can be a great idea to check in at the beginning of the year to see what kinds of resources may be available and to check on who you might have to talk to for meeting a particular need. It is better to make sure you know those answers ahead of time then to try to figure them out when you are in a time crunch.

Of course it is important to note with any tip like this that some Autistic students choose not to disclose their identity in college for a wide variety of reasons and forgo the potential accommodations they might receive from disclosing. 

That is a perfectly valid choice, and if you have chosen that route in college your time is likely better spent planning with your support network to meet any potential challenges on your own terms. 

4. Check in with your professors regarding accommodations (if you know what you need!).

A new semester means new classes and professors, and while most professors tend to be reasonable about students sharing their needs you also never know when there might be a delay to their ability to provide a given accommodation, whether there is a genuine logistical challenge or that professor just happens to be a jerk and decides to complicate the process. 

However it may go, you are much better off finding out early than when you are in the thick of things and missing an accommodation could potentially affect your ability to complete your work on time.

Of course you may not always need an accommodation in every single class or perhaps the accommodation you need might depend on the parameters and expectations of the class, which is information you may not always have access to ahead of time! While it is true that waiting to talk about accommodations can have its drawbacks, you can only do so much when you don’t have the information you need. Checking in early when you can is great, as is checking in if you realize later on that a particular accommodation is necessary. 

5. Review ways your day to day routine might change (if your routine is different from outside school!).

One shift that is common for many college students is a major adjustment in daily routine once they are living in a dorm. While there is the obvious change of managing classes, activities, and homework, even daily self-care routines can be majorly impacted by a change in setting! 

Taking stock of the way you like to do things in school and making sure you have the time to get it all done can help to take away some of the stress of adjusting. While you may not be able to anticipate every single complication that comes with your new schedule, a basic plan is more likely to help you navigate that frustration and still get everything done than just winging it!

Of course, it may be the case that your personal routine stays largely the same when you are in school, or you may have even lived at school over the summer and haven’t had to manage a significant transition period! 

If you feel set in your routine and like you are getting everything done that you need to, then it makes perfect sense to carry on the way you have been doing things. The point of making a plan is to feel more prepared for the coming change, so if you don’t feel like planning will help you feel more prepared that is a good reason to skip the plan! 

6. Talk to your roommate about your needs in a coliving space (whatever they may be!).

A new school year in college often (though not always) means a new roommate with different habits, needs, and preferences. Even if you keep the same roommate from a previous year you may find that your or their needs have changed! Because you are sharing a living space together, even minor annoyances can build up and turn into major conflicts if left unresolved. Handling this situation effectively partially means listening to your roommate’s needs and it partially means communicating your needs, whatever they may be. 

When it comes to roommates, particularly roommates with different habits and preferences, finding the right balance between compromising and standing up for oneself can be a tricky, ongoing process but it’s a good idea to establish a dialogue early and to normalize talking about these kinds of issues so that they do not get out of hand. Better to have the conversation and not need to discuss much than to need to discuss a lot but not have the conversation! 

7. Establish spaces where you feel able to get your work and routines done (however many may be necessary!).

One reality of college is that you never quite know what’s going to change year to year. Maybe your new dorm room doesn’t feel like quite the haven that your previous room did. Maybe your favorite study spot was in a building that’s not undergoing renovation. Maybe lots of people are using the communal bathroom at a time when you could have expected privacy the year before. 

There’s lots of different work and routines we need to do in college and seeking out spaces where we feel able to accomplish those tasks is crucial, regardless of whether the places we are used to are still available. At the start of the year it can help to take inventory of the spaces you used to use, checking to see which are still accessible to you. 

In cases where a space is no longer accessible, think about the aspects of it that made it such a good space for you to aid in your search for a suitable replacement. It can be incredibly helpful to seek out these spaces consciously as it can be all too easy to fall out of habits that are important to us when we don’t have the right space for it!

Of course if you feel comfortable getting your work and routines done in whatever space, or if the things you need are the types of things you can bring to any space, such a search may not be necessary or represent a limited return on your time and energy investment. The important thing is to make sure your needs are met so you can accomplish all of your essential tasks! 


We hope these tips have offered some helpful starting points for a smooth transition to the new semester and school year. College by its very nature can be quite open ended and unpredictable, and the steps you take at the beginning are just one way to help navigate the system in a way that helps you meet your needs and accomplish your goals. 

If you have any college experiences you’d like to share, tips you wish we’d included, or requests for posts related to other topics then we’d love to hear from you! Just drop us a line at and in the meantime we wish you the best of luck in the upcoming semester and school year! 

Green squiggly line to mark the end of the blog post
Previous article Creating a Self Regulation Station in Your Classroom
Next article 7 Ways Parents and Caregivers Can Support Autistic Students to Start the School Year

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields