The next area to examine is environment and the effect it can have on a person with AS. The environment a person with AS finds themselves in can and does have a very profound effect on their ability to function and perform at a reasonable level on a daily basis. This is because many if not all people on the autistic spectrum have issues with sensory sensitivity and the environment they find themselves in can and does have an effect on them to varying degrees (National Autistic Society, 2014). Whilst NT people have the ability to block out and ignore background noise, lights, movement, smells and tastes, to name a small selection, people on the autistic spectrum have tremendous difficulty in blocking out and ignoring these sensations.
An example of this and one of the reasons I chose the University of Huddersfield over the University of Bradford or the University of Leeds is the location and size of the town.
The University of Leeds would have been the most obvious choice to go to because of its size, location and reputation. Yet for me, it was the size and location that I found off-putting and perceived it as causing me the most distress. The size of Leeds was, I found, very overwhelming and I could not fit it into my mind. It was simply too big for me to comprehend and this was extremely off putting for me. Because of its size I visualised that I would find it difficult to navigate and that there would be many moments of sensory overload for me because of this. Travelling to Leeds would cause me similar problems because of the distance from my house to the university and if I was running late this would increase my stress and anxiety levels and leaves me close to breakdown.
The University of Bradford seemed too close and too familiar, although on reflection if I had thought about it more logically rather than believing that I need to challenge myself constantly in order to improve, it might have been the more logical choice based on proximity and familiarity of location.
The University of Huddersfield was from the point of view of physical environment view ideal for me as a university to study at. Huddersfield is close enough for me to travel to, and the town centre is a perfect size and shape for me to get around. This reduces my chances of being subjected to sensory overload and in turn reduces my chances of my levels of stress and anxiety getting too high for me to cope with. The same applies to the campus. Again this is quite small for a university and this makes it easier for me to cope with because I do not get overwhelmed by it. I can visualise both the town centre and the university campus in my mind and this makes it a lot easier for me to cope with.
When I go to a classroom or a lecture theatre I try and visualise what they will look like in advance so that I am prepared for the environment I am entering, even if I have never been in that environment before. This is to help me to mentally prepare for the lesson or lecture and reduce the time I have to spend getting familiar with my environment. Then rather than spending time looking around taking in my environment I can concentrate on the lesson or lecture. The visualisation is based on both personal experience and from watching television programmes and building up a database in my mind of the kind of environment that I can expect when I enter a classroom. For the most part this is quite accurate.
On occasion I have been thrown when the environment was not what I expected, but I have learnt to be more flexible in my thinking and anticipate different shapes and sizes of classroom and lecture theatre. One of the problems I have encountered at university is noisy lecture theatres. Some lecturers are not quite as good as controlling a lecture theatre and maintaining order. In these cases the noise levels have become overwhelmingly unbearable and this has resulted in my having to make other arrangements in order to continue studying. During these episodes students are just talking loudly whilst I am trying to work. This overloads my sensory sensitivity and I go into meltdown because I cannot cope with all the noise and trying to study as well.
Another environment which can cause difficulty for people on the autistic spectrum is where to study when doing revision or assignments. For me studying at home is not conducive to either task because of the distractions there such as television, housework, computer games and pub for example. Whilst on the surface this may sound normal and just an excuse for myself and I suspect many others on the spectrum it is a very serious matter.
On the one hand there is the need and desire to get the work done. On the other hand there is the need for balance in order to avoid burnout. What frequently happens is work is started and then I have a break. When I go back I cannot get started again and this leads to feelings of guilt, lack of confidence, frustration and anger amongst others at not being able to do the task in hand. The main issue here is that these other emotions take over and once again my system is overloaded and I cannot cope and function as I want to do. The end result is that nothing gets done and this merely exacerbates the problem even more. Because the concept of the home as a place of relaxation has been in my mind for so many years, it is now a very difficult concept to change.
However I have found some solace in a scheme called The Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL). This scheme allows a student or other member of a university to use the library facilities of another university. For myself I use the library facilities at Bradford University to study in. This is a revelation for me. I have an environment in which to study which is close to home, quiet, spacious, safe and has all the books and materials I need to study effectively.
I have had only two issues here. One was where I studied and there was a lot of noise. This was my fault because I had not read the floor plan correctly and had gone to an area where talking was allowed. The other was where I went in one day and my usual spot was taken. At first it did throw me but I have now told myself that at certain times during the year I cannot expect certain spots to be empty and I will have to sit wherever I can. This is an environment where I can visualise myself learning and studying and my grades have shown a marked improvement since I started using this facility in February 2014.
Now I have an environment I can go to where you are expected to study. I can concentrate on my work and my senses do not get overwhelmed. I can also get out of the house which can get lonely and depressing from time to time and be in a different environment surrounded by people. Over the summer break I intend to make the most of the library facilities by catching up on my subjects and using the time to plan my dissertation and subject modules. What the issue is here is that the university should make students more aware of this facility because it can make such an immense difference to how a student performs and the grades that they achieve.
Copyright © Andrew Smith 2014