How Autism Went To College With My Son

When graduation rolled around last June, my apprehension skyrocketed with how we were going to make college work for the twins, especially Reagan.  When you have a son who is brilliant in so many ways, yet struggles with social thinking, quite a loner and a former eloper (someone who wanders or runs away), you as a parent aren’t usually very keen on the idea of them moving out from under your protective umbrella just because they got into every college they applied to and picked one over an hour away.

So we stewed on our options.  That alone was stressful enough because there were very few options for someone like him if he was going to go to his dream college.  Either we pay a fortune for the right level of support we knew he needed or we went with Vocational Rehabilitation bandaged idea of support, which based on their poor performance with following through on certain promises before he even left high school, I wasn’t overly optimistic.

In the end, we set him free…albeit with clipped wings.

So last August, Reagan moved an hour away to attend college.  After painstakingly considering the few options of where he’d have the most support and success, we allowed him to go to the school of his choice.  We made this decision because there is an intensive autism/ADHD/LD program nearby that we wanted him to attend that included housing.  The autism program’s students live in apartments just above their offices to keep them in close proximity which was exactly what we wanted for him.  We just couldn’t imagine Reagan in a dorm room without supervised support especially considering the bullying that had occurred over the years at school.  We applied and he was accepted into their program in August.

Reagan is now living with another young man who is also on the spectrum.  It’s an interesting arrangement especially since interaction is usually facilitated by one of their advisors from the autism program.  Otherwise they coexist and are happy with how things are going.  Their advisors do work on roommate relationships, but it is a slow going process with all the other expectations and demands they have on their plate.

Reagan is a full time student at the college and the autism program.  He is taking the required classes for his computer science degree and some fun music classes since he’s now considering a minor in music.  He proudly told us after just a few days how he is able to walk or ride the bus independently to campus.  His favorite buildings are the Library and the Union which wasn’t a huge surprise to us.  I’m certain he has scoured every nook and cranny to find favorite spots to hang out in both buildings.

With the autism program, he is learning life skills such as cooking, cleaning and doing laundry as well as improving his executive function skills, study skills, budgeting skills, social thinking skills and other vocationally geared activities/classes to help him achieve the independence he so desires from his current level of assistance in most areas of his life.  He has an advisor assigned to him from the autism program who often meets with him to keep on top of his classes/assignments/tests and she goes with him to any meeting involving the Office of Disability services at the college and meetings with his college advisor and professors.  He has a team of different people with the autism program training & guiding him in the aforementioned academic, life and vocational skills as well.  With all of his responsibilities, I’d say anxiety is probably his biggest issue, but having his team help him think through situations in a more effective and productive way minimizes his symptoms of anxiety so it doesn’t overwhelm him.  Impressively, he is their first student to carry a full college academic load while concurrently enrolled in their program/classes.

We are in frequent contact with the personnel of the autism program which makes our adjustment, our fears and our loosening of the reins (so to speak) a bit easier, but it’s also bittersweet.  While Reagan is living in a small college town experiencing life as a college student with enhanced opportunities with the help of his autism team to learn how to function and work as an autistic adult in this often judgmental and crazy world, I find myself feeling twinges of sadness and if I’m honest there’s a touch of envy for the people helping, teaching, and guiding his transition into adulthood.

Additionally, contact can be spotty with Reagan because he’s not a chatterbox of info or a texting fanatic.  He also abhors talking on the phone.  We do get weekly email updates from his advisor that are narrated by Reagan which is enormously helpful in keeping us in the loop. He occasionally texts me pictures of meals he’s learned how to make with help, updates on school happenings and asking for money.

In mid October, we were invited to a Parents’ Weekend to hear about Reagan’s progress with the his academics (college) and with their autism program.  Per their report, he was doing exceptionally well overall.  What made my day though was to hear from a faculty member with the autism program who works with Reagan say “Reagan, more than any student I’ve worked with, talks about and appreciates his family more than anything else in his life.”  That statement alone let us know we’ve done well raising this kid.

We were thrilled when he finished out his first college semester with 3.875 GPA.  On top of that, we saw many positive changes over Christmas break while he was home that confirm to us the program is working and we made the right choice.  He was also invited to a special dinner last week that only “high achieving freshman and sophomores” in the computer science field were invited to attend that is great for learning about opportunities and networking for internships.

I’m so proud of him and all he’s accomplished.  College certainly seems to be agreeing with Reagan. 🙂

Liz Roush

Liz Roush

I’m a stay at home mama to 7 uniquely enhanced kids, married to my high school sweetheart for over 24 years. Down syndrome, autism, ADHD & adoption make my world go ’round and I’m sharing our version of normal.





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