My last few blogs have been devoted to my younger son and the trials and tribulations of being a high schooler with aspergers. So I decided that it was time to focus on what happens in college and what happens in the world around an older teen. You can read in an earlier blog how we had to hire an aide inorder to send him to college. It became readily apparent that this brillliant young man had no idea how to handle freedoms, more mature social interactions, organize less structured classwork, handle money or how to find a job.
Luckily we found a great aide. She was able to teach him to organize himself, and helped him learn some basic rules for the classroom. It became apparent that what he needed was some very hard and fast rules. These are the rules:
-no more than three questions during a lecture
-raise your hand and if the professor does not call on you in one minute put the hand down
-write down the unanswered question to ask later right after class, either in an email,or during office hours
-do not ask other students the questions you can’t ask the professor
-be quiet all the time during lectures if not asking the professor a question
-make sure to hand in the required homework at the beginning of class
-do not interrupt lectures with questions about homework
Task two: Going to the cafe:
-stand in line until your turn
-try to pay attention instead of being sucked into the void of your handheld computer game
-use please and thankyou
-do not give all of your money as a tip (as I have mentioned before about my son, he is generous to a fault, with no idea how to handle money)
-sit down quietly
Task three: Organizing your life
-create draws at home for each class
-carry a seperate expandable folder for each class on the day of the class
-put all handouts away immediately so they do not get lost in the black hole of a backpack
-use an agenda for assignments given during class in addition to your syllabus
-put each syllabus in the front pocket of the appropriate expandable folder
-make sure you have pencils, and paper for taking notes
-do not leave the house without your wallet and your college ID and your house keys
-make sure you have money in your wallet
-make sure you have your cash card to get money if you need some
-make sure you have your cell phone with you and it has been charged
These are just some basic concepts that my son has had trouble with. The interesting thing is that in taking a seminar on transitioning to college for persons on the autism spectrum, I found that these are not unusual issues for ASD students. Executive functioning is the bane of an aspie’s existance. It is taught not learned automatically and quite frankly the process until the "lightbulb comes on" can be very painful. The seminar I took is given by The Asperger Center for Education and Training, http://aspergercenter.com This training teaches you how to be a College Coach for persons on the spectrum.
Now what is a college coach? It is a person who helps the aspie deal with all the challenges of college. They organize their executive function issues, teach them how to navigate the college campus, even helping them learn to deal with the cafeteria (the noise level and disorganization can be threatening for an aspie);, teach them how to organize their time so everything gets done (including laundry, hygiene and eating); where and how to access their money; how to ask for help either from a professor, the disability office, or even to recognize the signs of when they are getting sick and what to do. They do not necessarily go to class with the student but they are there every step of the way and their goal is to work themselves out of a job.
Another job the College Coach also takes up is the social aspect of an aspie’s life. It’s not all academic. They basically teach one to one social skills in the real world. My son’s new coach (We didn’t call the aide a coach but that is alot of what she did. She happend to have a Masters in Guidance Counseling) goes with him to lunch at a variety of places so he learns the steps. She visited him at his job on campus this summer and had him show her around campus making him go with her to lunch at a different cafeteria than he was used to. Our son’s particular Coach is also the leader of his social skills group so she helps him with those social deficits as well. For example: she knew he had been ignored by the club he wanted to join on campus, so she showed up with a list of other clubs in order to talk about which ones he might like to join, She knows that social rejection has been the thing that haunts him so she is trying to get him to persevere. He did email the new club president and has already received a very postive and welcoming reply.
NOTE: a College Coach coordinates everything with therapists and doctors. Nothing is done in a vaccuum.
I think these College/Life Skills Coaches are truely the wave of the future. They are the necessary ingredient in our children’s next stage in life. It is a great idea whose time has come. The Coach is another part of the team whose accepted mission is to help your child go boldly where noone had ever thought an aspie could go before.
Until next time,