Advice from a student on the Autism Spectrum

This blog was written by my friend Max de la Fontaine and her perspective on Freshers as a student on the autism spectrum…

Ah, Freshers Week is slowly but surely approaching for students, both in the UK and around the globe. For many, it symbolises the anticipated transition to university, whereas it is a time of anxiety for others. 

Having been there myself in 2019 (the last Fresher’s before the COVID-19 pandemic), I experienced the inexplicable feeling of anticipation and nervousness that comes and goes in waves during Freshers Week. Moreover, having Asperger’s made the process of starting a new life chapter all the more surreal. 

In the spirit of this upcoming milestone, I hope this blog post will provide some good advice and tips for Freshers Week. 

Instead of focusing on the DOs and DON’Ts that often creep into student life articles, I would like to keep things as impartial as possible here. Needless to say, common sense and your intuition are valuable tools in themselves, which no article – no matter how informative or witty- could ever make up for. 

All advice given in this blog article is based off my personal Freshers Week experiences as a female student with Asperger’s. 

It may not necessarily reflect your opinions or experiences, nor would I want that to be the case. You are the driving force behind YOUR Freshers Week with the advice serving as basic cogs. 

Without further ado, here are Max’s 5 top tips for Fresher’s Week (& Student life in general)!

1.  Plan optimistically – 

With only seven days and a possible weekend prior to that, forward-planning is an ideal strategy if you are aiming to enjoy a productive and action-packed Freshers Week. 

If you find routines and schedules beneficial, Student Unions normally release a schedule of Freshers Week events a couple of weeks beforehand via email. 

Organising your accommodation and course equipment as early as possible will allow you time to settle into the university environment and focus on the more amusing side of Freshers Week. 

If you are commuting, setting out your term time schedule and ensuring you have the required materials for your course in advance will provide you time to plan an exciting Freshers Week. 

For a meditation or reflective activity, you could consider what you are most looking forward to during Freshers Week. This form of constructive thinking will help you to develop a growth mindset by introducing a positive focus. 

Equally, you could think about any concerns you might have about Freshers Week, keeping in mind solutions as a crucial part of this reflective task. 

Remember that expectations do not always equate to reality. Keeping an open-mind may sound cliché, but sometimes the best moments and memories arise from spontaneity and the unexpected. 

2. It’s what you make it – 

You may feel that you have to drink alcohol and go nightclubbing to fit in with your new peers at Uni. This couldn’t be further from the truth!

Whilst there is certainly a drinking and partying scene, these are by no means the only ‘scenes’ you will find across campus. First and foremost, you are in control of where you go and what you do – no negotiations, no obligations on your part.

From academic and leisure societies, there is more than one opportunity to find your place as a university student. If your university hosts a Societies Fair, it is worth attending this event to get to know and sign up for societies and clubs that interest you. 

Freshers Week is not the only time to make friends – you have the entire duration of your studies and beyond to meet likeminded individuals. Furthermore, meaningful connections and friendships are lifelong gems outweighing any arbitrary number of contacts.  

3. Prioritise for a great start to your new student life – 

Before attending any additional Freshers Week events, make sure you attend any compulsory talks or information sessions. 

Your university should inform you of any timetabled events. You should also check your timetable if unsure. 

These talks and information sessions will be of great benefit to you now and in the long term, so bring along a notepad and pen or laptop to jot down anything noteworthy. It may come in handy later on!

4. Avoid the dreaded Freshers Week burnout – 

Freshers Week flies by so quickly that even I still ask myself where on Earth did those days go! 

Trying to cram outings and activities into every nook and cranny can easily get the better of you in the undesirable forms of tiredness and exhaustion, especially with the natural ‘neon buzz’ and fast-paced fun of this exceptional week. 

Ensure you stay in check with your physical and mental health. 

Have a set number of events you would like to attend and a good sleep schedule – both will make the week more worthwhile and memorable.

5. Immerse yourself in the university culture and surroundings –

Familiarising yourself with the campus environment is a fundamental aspect of Freshers Week, which can alleviate any anxiety related to the change of setting.

After Freshers Week, your studies will be your main goal and commitment, so dedicating some time to appreciate your home-away-from-home can serve as meaningful motivation and anticipation for the bright future ahead. 

Finally, Freshers Week is a ‘fresh’ and debuting opportunity for everyone – no matter your background or Autism. Savour it, cherish it, enjoy it and embrace it – in the present and future. 

Wishing everyone the very best of luck and success,

Max de la Fontaine (2021)