• Brooke Simtob

Year in Review: My Experiences as an Autistic College Freshman

The two friends that I became closest to, Charlotte and Mariah, are also both autistic and mentees in Campus Links. They became some of my best friends this school year.

Starting fall semester of 2019, I will be a sophomore at Grand Valley State University. I am a psychology major and studio arts minor, I’m involved in too many extracurriculars to count, and I have friends.

Now, getting here has been no easy feat; I started college at GVSU just 3 short months after graduating from the therapeutic boarding school/treatment center that I lived in for almost 2 years. Going to college has been my dream ever since I can remember, so being able to go to GVSU is a dream come true. Though there have been struggles that have accompanied being an autistic college student with anxiety and depression disorders, I am proud of all of my first-year accomplishments.

Fall Semester

My first semester of college started off pretty terrible. Move-in was about a week before classes started, for time to get settled and for orientation. Move-in went well and I was able to get settled in my new room, but my roommate situation was less than desirable. My roommate barely acknowledged my existence for the whole move-in week and didn’t even show up to orientation. Everyone was paired off with their roommates during orientation and mine wasn’t even there.

And to make matters worse, some of the orientation events were in what we call the fieldhouse, which is a major sensory overload zone. The first event of orientation was in there and I had a panic attack right away and left the event before it even started.

For the rest of orientation week, I avoided going anywhere because I kept getting lost; I also had no one to talk or eat with in the dining hall. A few kind people invited me to eat with them occasionally which was very nice, but the week overall was a mess.

Also during this first week was the orientation for Campus Links, which is the autism peer mentorship program at GVSU. This orientation wasn't very organized, so I was confused for most of it, and I felt super awkward around my mentor given the rough start to the week already. I was disappointed at my first impression of the program because it was a major reason that I chose to come to GVSU in the first place.

Everything started to look up once classes started. Having a routine and schedule was really helpful to keep myself calm and regulated, and I got super involved in a bunch of clubs and other extracurricular activities. I originally auditioned for a cappella (I didn’t get into that), so I joined Dance Troupe, Writer's club, and became active in the Campus Links program. I also auditioned for a small Shakespeare play and got a part in it!

Some other highlights of my first semester include:

- I was on a panel with other GVSU students with invisible disabilities to share our experiences in college, living with a range of invisible disabilities

- I got an article published in the Jewish Journal through my connection with my cousin (check it out here: https://jewishjournal.com/blogs/240695/understanding-autism-college-student-spectrum/)

- I moved rooms to have a different roommate

- I made new friends through Dance Troupe and Campus Links!

Winter Semester

Second semester could not have started out any better. At the very end of fall semester finals week, I moved from my small dorm room with my (second!) awkward roommate situation to an apartment with a few other people from Campus Links. I had already started to become closer to my friends in Campus Links, and being able to live with them was amazing. I had friends to eat meals with, play card games, and just hang out.

Some other important highlights from winter semester include:

- Jess and I launched this blog!

- I started group therapy at the on-campus counseling center

- I changed my major to psychology with a minor in studio arts

- I went on a spring break trip with GVSU Alternative Breaks, where our group volunteered at a homeless shelter in Kansas

- One of my art pieces was in an art exhibit about adults with disabilities, in the Grand Rapids Art Museum

In summary, I had a fantastic, hard, amazing, complicated, awesome first year at college. My semi-new knowledge of being autistic (read more about my journey to a diagnosis here: https://www.ba4autistic.com/home/my-journey-to-an-autism-diagnosis) really helped me to be the confident advocate that I was for myself during this school year, and it helped me find Campus Links, a program that has and will continue to greatly influence my college experience. I am proud of how far I have come and can't wait to see where I go now. The future is limitless!

Thank you to everyone who has supported me through this journey. I am so grateful for everyone who helped me reach my goal to go to college, and the people who have helped me on my college journey along the way. Everyone’s continuous support is something that truly warms my heart.

Quick Note - What is Campus Links?

You may be wondering what Campus Links is, the program that I mentioned multiple times throughout this article. Basically, it is a peer mentoring program where Grand Valley’s Disability Support Resources pairs upperclassmen with healthcare and/or helping majors (or really anyone who is interested in being a mentor) together with autistic college students. These mentors help the autistic college students with social and emotional wellbeing, and become what I call a “built-in friend”.

Through Campus Links, we are also given access to numerous services to help us succeed both academically and socially throughout college. It also gives us a chance to connect and become friends with like-minded people. The website isn’t the most informative, but if you would like more information, learn about Campus Links here: https://www.gvsu.edu/dsr/campus-links-96.htm.

DISCLAIMER: This is only my experience and views on the Campus Links program. I am not being endorsed to share my opinion, this is strictly to showcase my own personal experiences.

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