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How to Navigate Campus Housing for Adults with Autism

The transition from living at home to living independently at college is a huge adjustment for all students. For students in college with autism, that adjustment can be a bit more overwhelming.

The good news is that with some extra preparation and the tips outlined in this article, you’ll be ready to tackle campus life in no time.

Housing Options For Adults with Autism in College

There are a few different options that college students can choose from for their living arrangements. Which is best for autism and college? Let’s go over some key pros and cons of each option.

Living at Home


  • Less of a disruption of routine
  • A safe and familiar place to come home to
  • Parents and family members are there for additional support
  • Total control over sensory aspects of your room, including furniture arrangement, temperature, noise level, etc.


  • Fewer options for socialization
  • Less independence
  • Fewer chances to develop life skills such as cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, managing finances and bills, etc.

Living in the Dorms


  • Located centrally and in close proximity to classes, library, and dining
  • Offers the chance to live independently with strong support from roommates and RAs, and other staff
  • Learn life skills, such as cooking, cleaning, etc.
  • Roommates and RAs can help ensure you get to class on time, eat regularly, and manage their medication.


  • Sharing space and respecting boundaries can be challenging
  • Roommates staying up late studying or hosting parties can be distracting and overwhelming for students with autism
  • More expensive than living at home
  • No control over your sensory zone when sharing a room with a roommate

Living Off-Campus


  • The most independent housing option, off-campus housing allows the student to adapt to an independent lifestyle in the “real world”
  • The Adult Autism Center can help teach vital life skills such as >a href=””>managing finances, cooking, cleaning, etc.


  • Often times the most expensive option
  • The time spent preparing and planning meals, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, and commuting to campus may make it difficult to focus on completing assignments and homework.
  • Could feel isolating or lead to the student not stepping outside of their comfort zone to meet people.

Tips for Navigating Campus Housing with Autism

No matter which living arrangement you decide is best for you or your loved one, we have some expert tips to ensure a safe and smooth transition.

Allowing Yourself to Adapt to Your New Environment

Moving away from homes takes away the control over the sensory aspects of your environment.
Everything from the temperature and the lighting to the décor and furniture are no longer under your control.

College students are loud — whether it’s a late-night study session or an all-night rager, your living space can instantly transform from a zen zone to a loud, smelly, sticky mess (not to mention strobe lights and other party effects that can be a sensory nightmare). These are not ideal conditions for people with sensory issues. But, you can adapt to this change in environment by making a plan ahead of time.

Before you move in, get with a family member or friend and create a plan for what you will do if it gets too loud, hot, dark, bright, etc. Some examples include escaping to the library, investing in noise-canceling headphones, downloading a mediation app, or finding any other activities you enjoy that will calm you down and distract you.

Although you won’t be able to control your environment, you can find small comforts that will help you feel safe enough to navigate the discomfort.

Most college campuses will provide early move-in accommodations for people who may need some extra time adjusting. This is a great opportunity for you to move in ahead of your roommates to claim your space and get things situated in a way that makes you feel at home. It also allows you some extra time to adapt to living independently, finding your way around the town, making it to classes and the dining hall, and so forth.

Adults with Autism and Meeting Friends

The start of a new school year can be quite a blur with so many events taking place — both on campus and in dorm rooms.

From sign-ups for clubs and intramural to Greek life and student council, college students are shuffling around during those first couple of weeks to meet new friends. These events can feel demanding and even draining for adults with autism.

The beginning of the year is a crucial time to meet friends. This is why we encourage our clients to meet people early and often by participating in as many of the on-campus welcome events as you can — of course, don’t push yourself too far outside of your comfort zone.

Adults with Autism should aim for 45 minutes- 1 hour of socialization per day during the first couple of weeks. It may be challenging, but it will help you acclimate and meet friends so much faster!

Some colleges even offer special programs for people with autism to help them make friends, adapt to their new environment, and even get help with homework and classwork, and therapy.

The Adult Autism Center can help build social skills and accommodate any special needs or circumstances for our clients. We make making friends easy! We will make sure you feel empowered and ready for college through the many programs we have to offer.

Respecting Shared Spaces

Most college students do not have experience sharing spaces with people outside of their family the first time they move into a dorm. This means that everyone will suddenly have to acclimate to sharing a bathroom, kitchen, living room, and sometimes a bedroom.

The best way to navigate this change is by respecting shared spaces. This means doing your part to keep shared spaces clean, especially if you have made a mess, pay attention to your noise levels when you are watching TV or listening to music, and keep the space open to everyone.

All roommates have equal rights to use the space, so don’t take over any common areas or do anything else that might make your roommates feel unwelcome.

Communication is Key

While you and your peers adjust to living with one another, miscommunication is bound to happen. Whether it’s passive-aggressive or sarcastic behavior, blurred communication is even more challenging for people with autism.

Establish an open communication policy with your roommates so that as soon as an issue arises, you address it and mitigate it with one another instead of allowing the issue to fester and turn into a huge blow-up.

If you’re comfortable, disclose your autism with your roommates so they can have a chance to better understand your communication needs and preferences.

If you’d rather not disclose your autism and communication issues keep popping up with your roommates, reach out to your RA, a professor, or an adult autism center who can help you develop some strategies and mechanisms to productively address the issues and overcome them.

Contact the Adult Autism Center Today

Are you preparing for a big life transition or looking for some additional support and guidance on navigating adult life with autism? Contact the Adult Autism Center today. We are dedicated to providing adult autism support and ongoing education that is critical to helping adults with autism reach their full potential and experience the highest possible quality of life.

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