Study Skills For Students With HFA/AS
The University of Melbourne and the Australian Catholic University have produced a very useful e-booklet called "Towards Success In Tertiary Study with Asperger's syndrome and other autistic spectrum disorders", which can be downloaded for free from
In some ways, having HFA/AS can be a academic advantage for a student, but it can also create problems. The important thing is to be aware of how you learn best, and not assume that what works for "neurotypical" students will necessarily be best for you.
A Few Advantages ...
- Most students find that a busy social life interferes with their studies. This is one problem that we generally don't have :-)
- Some people with HFA/AS have unusual memories and/or a natural affinity with computers - both of these give you a natural head start.
- The formal style required for academic essay-writing is usually a lot easier to master than "casual" social conversation.
- Hans Asperger suggested that academia might be the natural environment for bright people with AS, and other researchers have even suspected that the stereotype of the "absent-minded professor" might have been based on people with AS.
Sensory Anomalies and Information-Processing
- Many people with HFA/AS have idiosyncratic information-processing styles - see this article on Learning Styles and Autism, and "The hyperlexic learning style" at the American Hyperlexia Association. For some, absorbing long strings of auditory information (such as lectures) may be impossible, while visual data - text or diagrams - is very easy to take in. Or vice versa.You need to adapt your study methods to what works for you. For example, if you "tune out" in lectures, then find out if you can take a tape recorder in with you and tape them.
- You might find it useful to find out about any resources your university has for blind, deaf or learning disabled students, such as books on tape or transcripts of lectures.
- Some of the software designed to adapt computers for people with disabilities can also be useful if you have visual problems or trouble with co-ordination - Mac fans should check out Apple's disability resources at their Special Needs page.
- Crowded lecture halls can be stressful if you have problems with physical proximity - the only solution is to turn up early enough to get an aisle seat, and possibly request to be allowed to sit apart (or even in a separate room) for exams.
- If auditory processing problems mean you have trouble "filtering out" background noise in a classroom or seminar room, or if you are hypersensitive to certain noises, you might find the NoiseBuster useful - it filters out background noise electronically while leaving voices and other foreground noise clear. I'd love to hear from anyone else who has tried this, as it works very well for me.
- Sometimes advice and resources aimed at learning disabled students can be useful .
- You will be expected to structure your own time and plan your work to meet long-term deadlines to a much greater extent than before. It can be very hard to judge on your own if you're doing too little work, or too much, especially if you tend towards either disorganization or perfectionism, and so it's important to make sure you get adequate feedback from your teachers.
- Obsessiveness and perfectionism can be assets for academic work, but both can also be handicaps if mis-directed or out of control.
Coping with the "Classroom" Situation
- If functioning in group situations is a problem, then seminars and discussion groups can be difficult.
- If you are still deciding which universities to apply to, you might want to find out what the main teaching method is at a given university - does it use primarily one-to-one tutorials, seminars, lectures, lab work, or computers? For some people, one-to-one teaching can be better adapted to their needs, while others might find it too intense. If you think you might be unable to cope with a campus environment, investigate distance learning or on-line universities.
Advice from Anna-Rose, a student with Asperger's:
"every silver lining has its cloud
every glass is half empty
every blade of grass is not greener on the other side
unless you want it to be otherwise
plan your time well
succeed and prove them all wrong
get the grades you aim for
go for distinctions (and get merits)
you succeed even when you perceive you fail
after all you are here aren't you?"
DISCLAIMER: All this is based on personal experience alone. What works or causes problems for one person may not do the same for another.
Return to the University Students With Autism and Asperger's Syndrome main page.