Friday, August 12, 2011

Scott Shea's "How do you return to school after a long absence? Tips for people on the Spectrum"

Scott J Shea from Job Sink has provided this post on returning back to school for people on the spectrum.

Disclaimer: my day job is at the Apollo Group who owns the University of Phoenix as well as several other educational companies. My comments are not intended to be an endorsement nor a criticism nor are they representative of the Apollo Group, its directors, officers or subsidiaries.

As an adult Spectrumite facing employment issues you may be tempted to go back to school in order to add a skill or certification that will stand out to an employer. This can be good or bad depending on how you proceed. Additionally, going back into the classroom after an extended absence poses challenges for anyone (NT or ASD) which you will need to be aware of. If you are simply going back to school for fun this article is not for you. I fully encourage and support you in the pursuit of education for pleasure but cannot write about it and save space for the main thrust of this article.
Before you head back there are a couple of things you need to do. The first is deciding what you are going back for and be clear about your decision. Keep in mind this is a purely economic decision; you should choose to study something that you can tolerate and make money at; anything else will be squandering resources. Research the positions available for what you will be studying to see what sort of local market is available (or in an area you can easily move to). I once had someone try to talk me into getting my Financial Risk Manager certification and he showed me several high paying jobs for that… all in New York. Not the easiest of moves for sure. Check out employment trends, look in the want ads and job boards, check out and even see if you can find someone already doing that in your local area to see what they think. Additionally check out some of the open source university materials such as MIT’s Open Courseware at Here you will find materials that can guide you in your exploration seeing what is truly college level work without having to make a trip to Massachusetts and paying their tuition.

The second task is figuring out how much it will cost and how you will pay for it. $1,000 for a certification that will get you a job in six months is not bad at all. $120,000 for a degree that takes 2+ years is a lot worse. Without a doubt the flagship premier go-to authority for Financial Information in the United States is the Federal Student Aid bureau ( and you should start there and visit often. The can talk about Grants and Loans available as well as provide links to other resources. If you decide to take out loans keep in mind that you will pay a lot more in the long run and for a much longer period of time. Not a deal breaker but certainly something to consider. And if you are currently employed checkout what your employer offers for educational assistance—and read the fine print.
As for the school itself there are the traditional in the classroom forms and on-line schools. Each offers their own advantages. Classroom based education offers immediate interaction with the instructor and cohorts while on-line schooling offers a respite from going out and interacting with the general public while still getting an education. The flexible time for assignments and postings can fit well with other work or chaotic sleep patterns. During my own Master’s work there were several classmates deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan who brought their perspectives to class while working at times I was not awake.

While many ASD folk may choose the on-line route there may be some brave enough to go back into the lecture hall. For anyone doing that I offer the following suggestions:
  1. Meet the instructor beforehand to gain a familiar face in the room
  2. Check out the classroom ahead of time to get a feel for where you might be most comfortable sitting (I did this long before my diagnosis)
  3.  See if anyone you know is going to the same school/class to, again, provide a familiar face
  4.  Be prepared that others will be similar to you; i.e. re-entering the classroom after a long absence
  5.  Think of this in economic terms; you are paying for it, you should get the most out of it
  6. Capitalize on any ‘non-traditional’ student resources available; the University I went to for my Bachelors had a wonderful department that included counseling and advocacy
  7. Interact with your classmates! I know it may be difficult but knowing their names—write them down, take a picture with your phone—and keeping track of them via LinkedIn or Facebook will provide a network for you to reach out to when the job search comes along
  8. In class practice calming exercises even if it distracts from the lecture at hand; you will get more out of future lectures that way and prime yourself for better experiences
As a final word I suggest that you check out the Wrong Planet forums for education before, during and after your return to school. This support network will help you get the most from your education.

Good luck and good learning!

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