Over 50,000 individuals will be graduating high school this Summer. Like many graduates, the next question may be "What now?"
If you happen to be on the Autism Spectrum this comes with its own unique set of challenges. According to a study from autismsociety.org, over 70% of students will not have a job after they graduate.
Adjusting to New Challenges
Like anything new, life after high school is going to take time and practice to get used to. This includes adjusting to a new schedule and environment, as well as making new friends. This is the time to decide what is better for your long term goals; a literal fork in the road to decide to continue your education or find work.
A 2015 study found that only 36% of young adults with autism attended college or vocational schools, and 58% held a paying job between high school and their early 20s, a rate reportedly much lower than that of peers with other disabilities.
If you decide to go to college, or some other form of continuing education it can be the start of a new adventure. Decide what you want to get out the experience by deciding why you are really there. Maybe you want a degree so you can get a better job. Maybe you want to expand your mind and grow as a person. College is a good opportunity to learn new social cues, broaden your horizons and discover a new comfort zone.
Manage your Expectations
When entering college remember to take it one step at a time. Most special education programs prioritize achievement over ability. These tailored programs place a greater emphasis on the social aspect of school than you would find in college and are often aided by counsellors and advisors. This is in no way a bad thing as it encourages confidence. This might be counter-intuitive, as most college environments prioritize ability over achievement. Places of higher learning will place you in the same classes as everyone else regardless of your previous academic abilities, so it is a good chance to test yourself and maybe discover what your limits are.
Modification in college is possible, but it must be asked for and not always expected. You will not always be given extra time when you need it; if you feel like your workload is too much, there is no harm in scaling back that load until you become comfortable with it. Unlike the four-year time limit placed on high school, you can take your time to finish your goals even at a traditional four-year school. If you are feeling overwhelmed, look for resources on campus that will give you an outlet to find the right person to talk to.
The previously mentioned study also found that 75% of new college students on the spectrum surveyed said that they felt lonely or isolated in this new environment. This can happen to be out on your own with family far away, especially when you are used to having a close-knit support system. Encourage your family to communicate with you often, or consider attending a college closer to home.
While the prospect from being away from home in a new environment can be scary, it can also be your first step towards becoming more independent. Wherever you decide your future is going to go, for many people this is the time to start making those decisions for your self, for the first time.