In our own words: Autistic college students prepare to go back to school during a pandemic

August 13, 2020

There’s no way around it; the 2020-2021 school year will be unlike any other. While every student will be impacted by changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be an especially unique situation for transition-age students on the spectrum. Not only will they be navigating a new course load, but they will need to adjust to new ways of learning. Recently, we caught up with various college students to ask them about their plans and expectations for the upcoming school year. Here is what they had to say. 

Tyler: Autistic college students prepare to go back to school during a pandemic

Tyler Haynes, 20 

Sophomore at University of Missouri – St. Louis 

How will school this fall be different for you?  

My classes will be online most of the time and in-person some of the time. We have to wear a mask when we go to classes and into the buildings. We should stand apart from each other to be safe. We have to check our temperature every day. Some of the activities are different. Gatherings have to be small. There will be more activities online to have fun. The campus Rec Center is open, but the basketball courts and swimming pool are closed. I will miss playing basketball this semester. I play on the UMSL intramural basketball team. 

What are you most looking forward to this fall about school?  

I’m looking forward to moving back into the dorm. There are a lot of new rules. I want to see my friends and have fun. We will still have fun. Some of my friends will stay at home this semester. I’m ready for my new classes. I will take a Sports, Social Media, and Technology class. I’m excited about my classes.  

What are you most worried about?  

I am worried about not seeing some of my friends.   

What helped you the most to adapt to this “new normal” or do you think would be helpful for schools to support students?  

The UMSL SUCCEED Program is great. The SUCCEED teachers taught us how to use ZOOM. I can email my teachers if I have questions about my work. We had to come home in March 2020 and do our classes online. I was happy that my class schedule stayed the same. We had tutoring online. We started doing online activities for learning and fun. We did a cooking class, movie night, yoga, and games. I like to see the faces on ZOOM  

What advice can you give to other students your age about attending school this fall?

They need to concentrate and talk to the teachers. Follow all of the new rules. Ask for help. Have fun! 

A parent’s perspective: Tonya Haynes (Tyler’s mom)  

We are beyond grateful and amazed at how seamlessly and efficiently the UMSL SUCCEED team and community transitioned the students to a virtual learning format! At the first inkling that the university might shift to an online format this past spring, the SUCCEED team began to inform the students in a very supportive manner of the upcoming changes and reassured them that we would pull through this together. The SUCCEED team quickly taught all of the students how to use ZOOM, began adapting assignments, planned numerous virtual social activities and provided both technical and emotional support! The students remained informed and the entire time. The SUCCEED team also began to hold virtual parent meetings and distributed newsletters to parents specific to existing and anticipated changes. This communication continues! What seemed most helpful was that the SUCCEED Program maintained the existing class schedules of all students at the time of transition to remote learning (versus utilization of an asynchronous course format). Providing the SUCCEED students with the opportunity to attend class at the “normal” time and continue to see the faces of peers and faculty/staff amid such period of uncertainty seemed to provide a sense of comfort and facilitate a high level of engagement. Though naturally concerned at first, Tyler and his peers adjusted very well. The students learned more about their various abilities and we were reminded, yet again, that given the appropriate level of support and resources, our students will soar! 

 

Chase: Autistic college students prepare to go back to school during a pandemic

Chase Taylor, 20 

Naugatuck Valley Community College (Transition school) 

How will school this fall be different for you? 

I think this fall will be different for me because NVCC will now be offering virtual classes. Also, I will not have to wait for the bus to pick me up for school. 

What are you most looking forward to this fall about school? 

I'm looking forward to the different courses I will be taking this year such as graphic design. I am looking forward to learning new things and increasing my skills. 

What are you most worried about? 

I'm worried about how the rest of the school year will turn out. I'm just worried about the in-classroom set-up. I don't know what's going to happen due to COVID 19. 

What helped you the most to adapt to this “new normal” or do you think would be helpful for schools to support students? 

I think setting up a school class schedule helped me with the "new normal," I'd know what to expect. Some things that I think would help students are wearing masks at all times, having someone be a hall monitor, and putting up safety posters. 

What advice would you give to other students your age as they prepare to enter this new way of school in the fall? 

I would tell students to stay safe, be prepared and alert for anything, and try your best at school. 

 

Ryan: Autistic college students prepare to go back to school during a pandemic

Ryan Hooven, 18 

Freshman at Kutztown University  

How will school this fall be different for you?   

I will be in college and living away from home for the first time. This is both exciting and a little worrisome. 

What are you most looking forward to this fall about school?   

Living alone, gaining my independence and having more vast learning opportunities. 

What are you most worried about?   

Wearing a mask because they are annoying and distracting. I'm also worried because there is a lot of change going to college and not being able to drive. 

What do you think would be helpful for schools to support students?  

Leaving me to my own devices. 

 

Alexa: Autistic college students prepare to go back to school during a pandemic

Alexa, 18 

College freshman 

How will school this fall be different for you? 

All of my classes are online. I don’t know how my IEP is going to work with online schooling. 

What are you most looking forward to this fall about school? 

Learning more about children like me and how to help them. 

What are you most worried about? 

Me actually getting things done on time and asking for help when I need it. 

What helped you the most to adapt to this “new normal” or do you think would be helpful for schools to support students? 

Having my case manager and family with me to help me through uncertainty. I think having everything lined out as best as possible and to have back up plans lined out and helping the students understand why they are doing what they are doing. 

 

Pascale: Autistic college students prepare to go back to school during a pandemic

Pascale, 20 

College sophomore 

How will school this fall be different for you? 

It won’t really be that different from last year. I know the process and I know the routine by now. I guess it will be a little different because of COVID, but I know what to expect. Last year though, it was my first year in college. I was living alone (in the school residence) for the first time, I was far from home and I was starting a new routine. 

What are you most looking forward to this fall about school? 

I really look forward to seeing my friends and teachers again. I also can’t wait to start my classes and learn new things. 

What are you most worried about? 

I’m not as worried as I was last year. I guess I’m a little nervous about how things will change because of COVID though. 

What helped you the most to adapt to this “new normal” or do you think would be helpful for schools to support students? 

My first time at college was last year, so I know the routine which makes me less nervous. Also, I get a lot of emails from the school, so I keep myself updated on the news. Last year though, I was terrified for my first year of college. Because of this I visited the school and attended some classes in my program before hand, to see what it was like. I was also invited to a transition week before school started, for people who have special needs. This was super helpful because I got to know the location of my classes and I had the chance to do some things in advance. I think all schools should have a week like that in order to help new students transition to their new routines. It definitely helped me since I knew what to expect. 

 

Pedro: Autistic college students prepare to go back to school during a pandemic

Pedro Morataya, 22 

College senior 

How will school this fall be different for you? 

This semester will be fully online. However, this will be my last semester. 

What are you most looking forward to this fall about school? 

Graduating this December. As an Aspergic student, I’m glad I came this far as it never held me back. I think of it more as a hidden ability than a disability since it never held me back. I think of Asperger’s as something that makes us unique in our own and special unique ways to stand out. 

What are you most worried about? 

My friends but I know they will be alright. 

What helped you the most to adapt to this “new normal” or do you think would be helpful for schools to support students? 

Time management would be the best resort to get through an everyday life. We all have to adapt one day at a time. 

 

Paul: Autistic college students prepare to go back to school during a pandemic

Paul White, 19 

Junior at St Joseph’s University 

How will school this fall be different for you?  

Classes will not be fully face-to-face, which will be strange as it will be the beginning of the semester and it will be like that.  

What are you most looking forward to this fall about school?  

Finally going back to real-life classes and having real interactions with people. 

What are you most worried about?  

The restrictions continuing to be imposed. 

What helped you the most to adapt to this “new normal” or do you think would be helpful for schools to support students?  

Personally, I think that it just needs some personal getting used to over time. 

 

Jacob Schreiber, 20 

Junior at St. Joseph’s University  

How will school this fall be different for you?  

Unlike a regular college experience, I am facing multiple modification to many of my classes which I am prepared for. 

What are you most looking forward to this fall about school?  

Reuniting with my friends, enjoying another semester at SJU despite COVID-19. 

What are you most worried about?  

If the school will transition to full online again. 

Autism Speaks does not provide medical or legal advice or services. Rather, Autism Speaks provides general information about autism as a service to the community. The information provided on our website is not a recommendation, referral or endorsement of any resource, therapeutic method, or service provider and does not replace the advice of medical, legal or educational professionals. Autism Speaks has not validated and is not responsible for any information, events, or services provided by third parties.

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