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Dealing With Tough Professors as a College Student With Autism

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When you are attending college, you may have tough professors, who at times can be unfair and biased against students. These professors may not care about your needs or are just academically tough to keep their jobs and earn their paychecks. Having a tough professor can be intimidating for a person on the autism spectrum because they may struggle with advocating for themselves, and they have to debate their needs with a professor who is strict. I was in your shoes as a college student, so here are my suggestions to help deal with tough professors.

1. Relax.

Relax and be cautious. If the class has just started and the professor acts tough, it could be to intimidate you or motivate you to do better in the course. Don’t take the tough attitude to heart; it usually does not last long, and it’s just a tactic they use. Now the class may be difficult which can add plenty of stress for a person on the autism spectrum disorder, but in my experience the toughness gets less and less as the semesters go on.

2. Never give up.

I would advise you to never give up or drop the course, no matter how tough the professor is or how difficult the course may be. Always know you have support (which I will explain in detail) in learning how to approach a tough professor. There are resources and people dedicated to helping you succeed in college and getting the best help possible.

3. Look at their teaching style.

You can learn so much from a tough teacher, but it’s important to understand their methods. If the teacher just assigns busy work or book work, or is rude and impatient towards the students, you have a bad instructor. With good tough teachers, you learn a great deal of information and feel supported, even if the class is difficult. Be vigilant about important assignments in the course, and if the professor cannot give you a clear and precise answer about the assignments, you have a bad professor.

4. Tough professors challenge their students.

All professors challenge their students, but they must remember they were once students too. Good professors believe if they challenge you, they can see your true potential, and you will grow as a student and as a person.

5. Know your disability services staff.

As a student with a disability, you have one advantage — an educational support staff. The staff is dedicated to helping you achieve your educational goals, getting you the best resources and making sure you meet the academic standards of the college as a student with a disability. If you have difficulty with professors not meeting your disability needs or mistreating you, the disability services office should be there for you.

6. Know the professor’s boss.

When dealing with a tough, unfair or bad professor, find out who their boss is. It can be the lead professor, department chair or dean. For example, when I was a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, my major was Criminal Justice, my professors’ boss was the chair of the Department of Criminal Justice, and their boss was the Dean of the College of Public Policy. If you have any issues with an unfair, biased or bad professor you can’t resolve, you can call them, email them, or visit them on campus and express your concerns. They are there for the students as well, and it is their job and your job to make sure your academic goals and the academic goals of the college are being met.

7. Know your professors’ office hours and email addresses.

Know your professors’ emails and office hours and take full advantage of them. Show up to their office and email them; that shows you are determined and serious about your education. It’s your time; make them earn their paycheck. Good professors will respond to your email promptly and be concerned with your educational goals. Get all your questions on the table and don’t leave until you and the professor are on the same page and have a plan to help you succeed. If there is no plan, go back to step 6 or 5.

8. Know the syllabus.

A bad professor will often tell you something off the syllabus, and if it’s not in writing, it cannot be validated. Make sure that what the professor is going to be testing you on has been taught in class with resources and notes. When it came to testing time, I had professors who would put material on an exam that was never taught, or they would speak about a major assignment that was not put on the syllabus. It can be by mistake, but always get clarification from the instructor. Your grade is at stake.

9. Make trustworthy friends.

It’s important to make friends when in college, but that can be a challenge for someone on the autism spectrum. When I say make trustworthy friends, I mean make friends you can study with, friends who will help you catch up if you happen to miss class and who will be there to support you in your educational goals.

10. Don’t blame the professor.

This can be a tough one. Never blame your professor when things get tough, and never blame yourself entirely because that starts to damage your motivation and self-esteem. You are responsible for your educational goals, something people often fail to tell people with disabilities because they feel we are not cut out for college. Be accountable for grasping and knowing the material the best way you can, with access to disability services and support from the professor.

11. Advocate for your needs.

Out of all the steps I’ve outlined, this may be the hardest one for a person on the autism spectrum. Once you get to college, you don’t have your parents or teacher advocating for you anymore. It’s all about you, and you have to speak up, which can be tough. Sit down, analyze your educational goals and come up with a game plan for how you are going to approach the demands of college. I believe having a disability means you have the ability to succeed at anything you put your mind to; you just have to find your niche. Believe in yourself — you are bound for success in college!

Getty image by GoRodenkoff.

Originally published: May 21, 2018
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