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Why My Autistic Son Is Thriving in College

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My 20-year-old autistic son is a sophomore in college. Sometimes, when I just write those words, I still have a hard time believing it. Not because I didn’t believe in him, but because I so often doubted a world that saw “different” as less and so for years, I worried that a college experience might not be in the cards for him. With his need for routine and struggles with executive functioning, I worried that college would be too much and the staff and school would do too little to support him. I really love being wrong.

My son is attending college at a university that has additional supports for their autistic students. Most colleges have a Disability Services Office, but there are some that go one step beyond by providing unique supports for their autistic students, like study halls, dining together, social events, and job readiness skills. On my Facebook Page, The AWEnesty of Autism, I have tried to convey into words the change I have seen in my son. I know that my words fall short every single time, and the reason is, there aren’t words to describe what I am seeing.

I’ve tried to explain the change I see in my son to him too. I told him he seems lighter, more carefree, just… happier. I asked if he thought it was changing his major to music, singing again, classes being easier, a more normal college experience (with fewer COVID restrictions), or having a better feel for the expectations of college. He took into consideration all the reasons I thought might be why he seemed happier, looked at me, and said, “I just really like this environment.”

Navigating “this environment” so beautifully and independently was all I ever dreamed for him. Not necessarily college, but an environment where he would grow and feel happy and fulfilled. I was literally vibrating, overwhelmed with such joy and excitement for him. He knew it, and the joy he felt at my pride in him was reciprocated. I am so thankful to his university and others like it who realize with a little extra support, some willingness to think outside the box and provide some unique accommodations, more kids like my son can experience college in a way that is both beneficial to them and indescribable to their proud moms.

Never stop dreaming that one day your child will “just really like this environment,” regardless of where or what that environment may be.

Originally published: January 28, 2022
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