All students to varying degrees are likely to face challenging social situations when they transition to college and adulthood. If you are a student with a learning disability, you may find yourself working even harder to navigate these social situations.
Many students with learning differences experience difficulty socializing, particularly students on the autism spectrum. For some students, social difficulties can be more challenging than academic work.
A study released by the Brown School at Washington University found that adolescents with autism spectrum disorders are more likely than their neurotypcial peers to never see friends outside of school, and 50% are never invited to social activities. These issues can become even more prevalent for young adults with learning disabilities after they graduate high school.
The high school environment has several built-in social connectors, whereas in college the majority of those opportunities are no longer there. In college, you may have a class with a group of people that you will never see again. You’re no longer going to be eating lunch at the same time with the same people each day.
Socializing with your peers is a key part in making the most out of your college experience. College is not just about growing academically; it is also about learning who you are as an individual. Interacting with your peers is an important step to discovering what drives, inspires and fulfills you.
You may feel anxious, afraid or excited about your growing independence, or a combination of all three. Becoming more independent and assuming more adult responsibilities takes confidence and strength, but the rewards are worth it.
Here are some ideas to promote meeting other students in college.
Creating connections with people is crucial to the college experience. The volunteer work you do reflects who you are as a person, and you’re most likely going to meet people who share similar interests. Not only does doing community service work provide you with a sense of accomplishment, it’s a good way to network with professionals. Volunteering for various organizations allows you to work alongside a variety of people which can lead to valuable friendships, as well as future career opportunities.
Consider living in a dorm or shared apartment.
If that’s not possible, seek out common areas on campus.It’s not always easy living with another person, especially if it is someone you have never met before. Being open to getting to know your roommate is a good place to start. Though it may be uncomfortable at first, it is important to get outside of your comfort zone when meeting new people. These connections may lead to some of the most rewarding friendships and experiences you will have in college.
Additionally, college campuses have many common areas where students can mingle with their peers outside of their dorm or class room. Whether you live on campus or not, these common areas are great places to hang out and meet others.
Initiate conversations with others.
Initiating conversations with those around you can create some of the most unexpected friendships. The conversation can start in a non-personal way such as discussing lectures or reading assignments, and can lead to meeting for coffee outside of the classroom. It is also helpful to get to know your classmates so that you can find a study partner or have someone you can reach out to for information if you have to miss a class. In classes held in large lecture halls, it is helpful to know a few people, so you don’t feel lost in the crowd.
In college, you have to proactively meet people to develop friendships, but it’s not always easy to approach people or take the initiative. Be on the lookout for community service newsletters or read the college newspaper to stay up-to-date with the latest events on campus.
Join a club, study group or sports team.
You may be surprised to know that much of the learning in college happens outside of the classroom. Joining a club doesn’t just allow you to participate in activities that will promote social interaction, it gives you a chance to become connected to your school and build a sense of a community. Examples of this can include intramural activities, organized study groups or volunteer opportunities. Organized clubs and sports teams are also a good way to build connections and start positioning yourself for future employment.
Reach out to an academic support program.
Getting help from academic support centers, like the NorthBridge College Success Program, can help ease the transition academically, while allowing you to meet other like-minded peers.
NorthBridge holds 16 social events every year to initiate social interaction among students. Events range from dinner and a movie, to sporting events and group hikes. Some upcoming events are a night at a Rock Climbing Gym and a coffeehouse open mic night.