The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

Becoming an adult [with autism]

Preparing for the independence of university life is a big change for most teenagers. What's it like to make the transition into adulthood as an autistic woman? Our blogger shares potential challenges and her solutions.

Ellen (not her real name) last wrote for us in a powerful blog about her experience of moving from school to college. She shared how understanding herself was so important in adapting strategies for a different environment. 

After such positive feedback from that post, I've asked Ellen to update us on her future aspirations, and the steps that will get her there. 

Ellen's story: what next? 

Having just completed my first year of college, a lot of focus is now on what I want to do this time next year when I leave. Should I go to university? Should I try to go straight into a job? Should I do an internship? All of these options have pros and cons, but ultimately to do the job I want to do (scenes of crime officer) I will need a degree, so university is the most likely option for me at the moment.

It would be pretty stupid to pretend that this won’t present some challenges, so we have been going through and looking at what are and will be my strengths, and what might need a little bit of work.

Because we know what is likely to cause a problem it’s easier to plan and adapt things so I will cope more easily

For example, getting up in the morning won't be much of a problem, especially if I am excited about what I’m going to be doing that day. However, I’m pretty abysmal at navigating, so figuring out where I am going will probably be a massive challenge.

I’m quite good at cooking, but I often forget to eat if I’m busy, so I need strategies that will work in a new setting, where I won’t have people who already know me reminding me. I’m quite good in an emergency situation, but I really don’t handle normal daily stress well.

Because we know what is likely to cause a problem it’s easier to plan and adapt things so I will cope more easily. 

Where would be best?

There are different types of university, campus and non-campus. Campus universities have all the accommodation, lecture theatres and other university related things in one area, usually with some supermarkets close by too. This means that you don’t have to leave university grounds at any point if you don’t want to.

Non-campus universities are basically just a bit more spread out, and are usually closer to the city centre.

Ideally I would go to a campus university, as everything being together makes it harder to get lost. However, there are some non-campus universities that have everything I need close enough together. I went to the Liverpool John Moores summer university and I really liked it there, even though it isn’t a campus. So I would recommend visiting as many universities as you can.

What support is available?

All universities have some kind of support services and there will be someone listed on their website for you to contact. Some places are more helpful than others.

You can also search for personal accounts of the support someone had at university. If you find one on a university website be mindful that they may have left certain aspects out to make the university look good!

Visit the accommodation you plan to live at before you book it to check that the accommodation suits you

Universities also offer Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs), which don't have to be repaid.

If you are going to live away from home it’s a good idea to visit the accommodation you plan to live at before you book it to check that the accommodation suits you. For example, when I went to LJMU I found that the seagulls were really loud at night, so I will have to consider this when I apply.

Some universities will guarantee autistic students accommodation for the full duration of their course (rather than moving into student accommodation that is not related to the university).

Some jobs will require a specific degree, but some might just require a degree in anything. You should choose a degree you think you’ll enjoy (if a job requires a degree in something you don’t want to do then there’s a good chance you might not actually like the job).

Going it alone!

We’ve also been preparing for when I eventually live alone. My parents have had me helping more with the food shopping, planning out the meals for each week. I have an app called Bring! which is good for making shopping lists. The items have pictures which is beneficial for lots of autistic people, and you can create recipe cards, so rather than trying to remember what each recipe needs you can just select what you want to make and it adds all of those items to your shopping list.

The icon will go green when you have bought it, orange when you might be running out, and red when it has probably ran out, which is helpful if you can’t remember if you need something.

Luckily for me, my parents have been teaching me to cook since I was quite young, which means I have one less thing to learn to do now.

Despite this, there are still some days when making something to eat is beyond me; usually days when I’ve had to do lots of socialising or when I’ve done something out of routine. The plan for when I live alone is that I will make a few portions of food, and freeze them so I can just put them in the microwave instead of having to cook. This also helps when shopping because they don’t usually sell food in the supermarket for one person.

Other important considerations: clothes, bill and emergencies

Like many autistic people, I hate having tags in my clothes. My mum takes them out for me, which solves that problem. However, when it comes to washing my clothes it becomes more difficult, because we’ve essentially cut the instructions out. So I've made a poster that shows me how to do the washing, and reminds me that most things can be washed at 40 degrees.

Before I go to university, my mum is going to show me how to set up direct debits, which means that rather than having to remember to send money for bills the money will transfer automatically. We are also going to set up an extra account for an ‘emergency fund’ which I can use if something happens, such as if I broke my phone and needed to get it fixed, so I won’t then be short on money.

It’s much better to call someone I trust and get something sorted out than it is to overthink it until I lose control and have a meltdown

I found doing a first aid course really useful. I wouldn’t have panicked before I did it, but I probably wouldn’t have done anything at all. I also made some cards to put into a first aid kit, which remind me what I need to do, and if I need to go to hospital.

I also have a card with all the important phone numbers I might need on, such as my parents' mobile numbers. I know that these are stored in my phone, but the poster acts as a helpful reminder that I can call them, as sometimes I forget. It’s much better to call someone I trust and get something sorted out than it is to overthink it until I lose control and have a meltdown.

Ultimately, next year I have lots of consider, but hopefully some of the thinking I have done so far will help others. I am really delighted to be able to share my thoughts through this blog and have more to come – so watch this space.

Back to Gareth

There will be more posts by Ellen in the months ahead, documenting her experiences as an autistic woman as she navigates her pathway into adulthood.

In the meantime, you may find these posts helpful. 


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