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Attending university with sensory integration difficulties

08 Aug 2019 11:10 | SIE News (Administrator)

Embarking on a university (college) course is an exciting but challenging time, and more so for a student with sensory integration (sensory processing) difficulties. We’ve looked at some of the advice available for young adults preparing for university life this autumn.

The team at Understood offer six challenges and potential solutions in this article. They suggest these ideas for new students and their parents:

  • Carefully consider accommodation options and ask the university (or landlord) if single rooms are available, if quieter blocks are an option, if the student can bring their own familiar furniture from home, etc.
  • Familiarise yourself with what the new routine at university will entail. New routines means getting used to a new space, which can be difficult for young adults with proprioceptive issues. Talking about worries and the new daily routine can help to reduce anxiety - as well as planning how to include daily sensory diet activities.
  • For young adults with food aversions or preferences, as well as difficulties in coping with bright, noisy crowded spaces, the university cafeteria or dining hall can be overwhelming. Understood suggest talking over dining options and investigating where else on campus you can eat and finding out when these venues are least busy. You could also keep a mini-fridge within your room to keep a stash of favourite foods handy.
  • Speak with your institution’s disability office about accommodations that can be made regarding lecture halls and seminar rooms, for example, you may be able to wear sunglasses, earplugs or headphones in class, sit near an exit or the rear, sit in the same place every time, use fidget toys etc. Understood also suggest explaining to your lecturer or tutor that you may need to leave suddenly due to sensory overload and, in that case, would need to arrange to catch up on missed information.
  • Talking to friends about your sensory issues and coming up with solutions on how to handle situations together.
  • Alcohol and parties are part of the scene at universities but they are only one part of the myriad of campus activities. Explore your options but if you do want to go to bars and parties, practice how to handle peer pressure and how to exit the situation safely.

You can read the full article from Understood here.

All universities should have a function that assists students and looks at potential accommodations that the university can make to best support students with disabilities and additional needs. It might be reassuring to contact them prior to starting university to find out what support will be available to you in advance and to ask how best to inform lecturers and tutors about the accommodations or support that you’ll need. You might also be able to arrange a specific tour of the rooms and facilities that you’ll be using on a weekly basis to help familiarise yourself.

The team at Understood have also provided a very helpful list (appropriate to US and UK universities) explaining which university office to contact to ask for help with specific problems, ranging from tutors not understanding your sensory-related needs, to emotional stresses and health issues.

It’s important to realise that you’re not alone in dealing with sensory integration difficulties as an adult. It might help to read about the experiences of inspiring bloggers, such as Rachel S. Schneider of @Coming2MySenses in the US, or British autism advocate Hannah Molesworth whose posts include her experiences of the sensory challenges associated with autism @doilookautisticyet.

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