This is what it’s like being at uni with Asperger’s Syndrome

It felt like I couldn’t escape


I have just started studying Zoology at Nottingham and I have Asperger’s syndrome.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, Asperger’s is a type of autism without specific learning difficulties where people experience various social, sensory and stress related problems.

For me, stress has always been the kicker. All my issues with loud noises, bright lights and the presence of too many people around me, combined with my inability to navigate the wilderness that is human socialisation, raises my stress levels so high that even getting out of bed and studying seems impossible.

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Before uni, I had many sleepless nights worrying that I just wouldn’t be able to cope with moving away from my family and support systems to somewhere full of the very things that cause me stress and anxiety.

The disability support team at Nottingham were great at helping me work through my concerns before making the move, and they have supported me in many ways since starting uni.

The first few weeks of living in halls was really hard. It felt like I was just constantly surrounded by people and noise and I had no way of escaping it.

I don’t love everything about Rutland halls: catered food is nothing to rave about and I must have rolled out of my little bed ten times in the first week I was here.

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I’m not fond of change, and like being able to control what I do and when I do it, so I’m not a huge fan of being told when I can have dinner, and the sheer number of people around all the time – I still see people I have never met before in the laundry room.

The saving grace of Rutland hall has to be the Downs, the vast space that extends from my halls along the majority of my route to lectures in the morning provides me with a reprise from the cramped, busy lecture halls and dining room queues.

It was here that I met my now best friends, each day we meet under the trees behind Derby hall and able (or run if it’s raining) to life sciences.

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Zoology means a very heavy timetable of lectures – around twenty hours a week, lots of labs and so much coursework I could suffocate under the weight of it all.

Each of these has posed a specific problem for me that I have had to learn to manage in order to survive at university.

Walking into my first lecture, I had the very difficult task of deciding where to sit. The middle wasn’t an option, I get very nervous when I am surrounded by people, the back seems to attract a lot of people who just spend the entire lecture talking about their last drunken escapade but sitting at the front attracted a bad reputation in secondary school.

Luckily, I found a small group of other people who enjoyed sitting at the front and actually listening to lectures, so I end up sitting in this group even when not at the front, mainly because they understand that I like sitting at the end of the row or by the wall so there’s one less person sitting by me so I can actually pay attention to the content rather stress out about my close proximity to others.

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Labs caused my social anxiety to flare up, I used to fear messing up socially so much that I would go whole days not engaging in conversation. Thankfully, I had people I knew in my sessions so we naturally buddied up.

Coursework and tests were more tricky to get a handle of because my problem wasn’t doing enough work, I have always gone above and beyond the requirements, my problem was, and still is, getting the right balance between doing work and being healthy and happy.

My personal tutor was really good at helping me through this, reassuring me that I was on track and that I should take time to look after myself.

Despite the many road bumps and stresses, I have finally settled into university life and have met a couple of people I think will be friends for life.

If there are any students with Asperger’s syndrome out there, I would tell you to try everything you think is interesting, but don’t feel pressured into going clubbing if that’s not your thing.

Missing a couple of lectures isn’t the end of the world so long as you keep on top of the work. Most of all, have fun and be open to the changes you will go through. You’ll probably look back at Christmas and realise you’ve grown so much since you stumbled into university having no idea what to do.

I know I did.