Navigating university as an autistic woman.
Words by Lucy Evans
I remember starting university, being convinced I’d become a totally reinvented version of myself, new and without any hangups from the past.
But this isn’t the reality, is it?
I’m autistic. This means that my brain works a bit differently to a lot of people- I liken it to Mac vs Windows, where they both have the same goals and can do the same things, just in different ways. My communication can be described as straight forward, or blunt. I find it hard to see nuance and often see the world in a very binary way.
Starting uni was a huge thing. I was terrified, as many are, and really hoped to make a lot of good friends, having not really had lots of success with that at school. The difficulties I often face include coming on too strong and scaring people off- I talk a lot when I’m anxious or excited, or just coming off wrong when I don’t see why something isn’t the socially acceptable thing to say.
Even though I recognise these things, I still beat myself up when things go wrong. I remember hearing Hannah Montana sing ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ over and over again when I was a kid, but I still get a pit in my stomach when someone points out any tiny indiscretion.
I wish I could say that everyone realises and accepts that I am autistic and that often I just find things hard socially, but that just isn’t the case. Learning how to navigate social situations as an adult, having only found out I was autistic just before I turned 16, has been a huge journey. Everyone makes mistakes, but people just judge me on the invisible mistakes that society expects me to know about, rather than help me by (gently) showing them to me, and helping me navigate them.
I think that a lot of the time I put too much pressure on myself.
Navigating a new environment as an autistic person is overwhelming as is, and having to make entire new social groups and connections, often feeling like you have to disclose your neurodivergence to them, can be exhausting.
I’m very lucky to have found some people who treasure me for who I am, and know how to call me out when I make mistakes. We’ve grown together over time to become incredible versions of ourselves.
Meeting new people scares me. I spent my summer in two new cities with tons of new people, and having to adjust back and forth was like mental whiplash, especially as I moved five times in just two months. Constantly doing new things and new experiences. But I knew, having done it back as a fresher, I could do it now. I continued to put too much pressure on myself to succeed, but I surpassed even my own expectations and flourished.
I really hope that new freshers embrace all of those around them for who they are, despite the diversity of background, culture, gender or sexuality. That any new autistic students can take solace in the fact that, albeit through some heartache and a lot of hard work, people like you can live amazing lives at university, and form incredible friendships and connections.
If little Freshers Week Lucy, off the back of being traumatised by her A levels, can go on to do the incredible things I’ve done, you yourself can do anything you set your mind to, believe me!