Welcome back to the final blog post in our College Students Series. So far we have discussed how to prepare for college, accommodations and disability assistance, and how to talk to your professors. College Student Series: How to Talk to Your Professor About Your Autism. Today we will talk about how to build a social network at your new school.
I work with a lot of autistic and Aspie college students. Many college students on the autism spectrum say that making friends is very hard. They don’t know how to meet people on campus. Students with Aspergers may have social anxiety which prevents them from initiating conversations with classmates. They can feel lost in a sea of faces they don’t recognize.
Many students report feeling very homesick and overwhelmed during their first few weeks of college. There
are a ton of changes all at once. Also, the lack of structure can leave you feeling ungrounded, chaotic, confused, and lonely. You may thrive on structure. In high school, structure was applied to your life. Now as a college student, you need to create structure for yourself.
One way to combat homesickness is to build a new social network at school. However, if you experience social anxiety when talking to new unfamiliar people, this may be extremely difficult for you.
Neurodiversity and building a college social network
You know you need to build a social network and you want to make new friends, but it is hard for you. So what is the best way to go about meeting new friends?
Joining a club or student organization is a fantastic way to meet peers with similar interests and values. Clubs also offer you a scheduled time to interact with peers in a supportive and fun group setting.
Why Should You Join a Group or Organization in College?
- Creates a structured social environment
- Reduces anxiety around having to initiate conversations.
- You’ll have something to talk about because you share an interest with other club members.
- You may make new friends that you can spend time with outside the club setting.
- Everyone wants to feel like they belong. Having a sense of friendship or community makes us feel happier, more stable, friends help give us perspective when we are feeling bad or are stuck in “black or white thinking”
Before arriving on campus, I encourage you to look up the clubs and student organizations available on your campus. You can read about them and pick out 1-2 clubs to join within the first 2 weeks of school. You may feel nervous about starting conversations. That is totally understandable. Check out my previous blog on how to initiate conversations for tips to help you feel more confident talking to your peers.
Find a study group of peers you can connect with
Another great option for building your social network is to join some study groups! A study group offers you not only educational benefits but a way to connect with your classmates. Although this may make you feel uncomfortable, remember you will automatically have something to talk about in this setting. The other students in these study groups are looking to work with their peers to better understand your coursework. You can help them and they can help you. Your campus advisor, possibly your professors, and your Resident Advisor if you live in the dorms are great resources to help you find study groups on your campus.
Consider joining a support group of autistic college students
Over the years, I have found that many students I work with seem to thrive when they join a group of other neurodiverse students. Being with peers who understand your strengths and challenges. Peers who will understand your “quirks” because they have them too and will listen and care about you, is affirming. It makes you feel like you belong. Many colleges have neurodiversity, autism, or ADHD support groups. Also, you can search for autism support groups in your community or at a therapist’s office near you. If you want to build your skills before leaving for college, consider joining the Open Doors Therapy College Transition Group. We also offer social skills groups for South Bay Area college students that runs throughout the year. We would love to have you join our groups!
Stay Connected With Open Doors Therapy
Thank you for taking the time to read the blog posts my College Student Series. I hope you have learned some tools to help you or your child feel more confident as they transition to college. I encourage you to become a part of our autism community at Open Doors Therapy.
To stay connected with my San Fransisco/Bay Area autism therapy office please follow these three steps:
- Schedule a free 30-minute phone consultation call to learn how our therapists can help you or your loved one,
- Like Open Doors Therapy on Facebook and receive notifications regarding new blog posts and our services,
- Sign up for my newsletter and learn about new information and tools for neurodiverse teens and adults.
Other Autism Services at Open Doors Therapy
Our Palo Alto/Bay Area autism therapy clinic provides services to individuals with autistic traits. This includes individuals who identify as having Asperger’s, high functioning autism, undiagnosed autism traits, etc. and their families. Our talented therapy team provides a variety of autism therapy services designed to help you or your child be successful. Our services include individual counseling, parent counseling, and group therapy. Additionally, Open Doors therapy offers social skills groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, autistic adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training group, a teens & caregivers group, and a mothers group. For more information please contact Open Doors Therapy and schedule a free consultation.
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. She is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private practice specializing in autism therapy services in the South Bay Area, near San Francisco, CA. Dr. Oswald specializes in helping neurodiverse teens and adults and facilitating social skills groups.