After recent articles in the news about the best places for autistic adults to live, I started to rethink the issue of housing for my daughter.
She is in high school and currently looking at colleges. This is a huge step for us, as it is for everyone, and a major concern is housing.
Many colleges require freshman to live in dorms.
I remember my dorm experience – living in a bedroom with 2 other people I had never met for a year. We had to learn how to get along, adjust schedules, walk quietly and generally not try to kill each other before the school year was over.
It was NOT easy – but overall it worked out. But that is me, not her.
I cannot imagine my daughter in the same situation – she couldn’t walk quietly if her life depended on it. She has to get enough sleep or she is a mess and having other people constantly around is not a good idea. She needs some time to just zone out and relax without all of the sensory input and a need to interact with others.
So what kind of living arrangement would work for her?
Someplace where she can interact with others when she wants to, but has her own space to retreat to when she needs it. This may be hard to come by in college.
But where you live is more than just somewhere to keep your stuff and occasionally sleep.
Where you live has a big impact on the rest of your life.
It is a place to relax, to spend time with other students, to learn more about how others live their lives. It can become its own micro community.
I think as adults we often forget the importance of community, as it relates to where we live. In today’s society families and particularly young adults move around a lot. They may not live where neighbors talk to each other and spend time together. The time when everyone knows everyone else on the block seems to be a thing of the past.
For many people our friends are those we work with or worship with or those we went to school with. Freshman in college, particularly a large college, may have a hard time finding a group where they can make friends. This makes their living arrangement even more important.
For autistic college students building a community where they live is vital. Being able to be yourself, without fear of what others will say or do is important. Having others who can help you through difficult situations, suggest options for problems or simply sharing how they have coped with stress can make the college experience better.
At the same time the environment must be right.
A room that is small, crowded, too noisy or too bright is not a good choice.
Luckily many colleges around the country now have a new style of dorm room. One where each student has their own small bedroom, but there is a common area where they can gather as they want. This type of environment can be ideal as it allows students to retreat to their own room when they need to, but still have the opportunity to interact with a small group of peers regularly.
This style of living is a great way to build a community as well as provide for the sensory needs of autistic students. This is what we will be looking for in a dorm. It may not be as perfect as living at home, but it is a good first step.
No matter what age, building a community where you live is important for everyone. A home is much more than just somewhere you live.