So, how was Freshers’ week for you? Heaven, Hell, or perhaps somewhere in between? For autistic students like me, the hype surrounding Freshers week can induce a particular kind of anxiety, starting weeks before as a distant hum, becoming louder and harder to push away as the week approaches.
The overall concept of Freshers’ itself is already inaccessible: a week of constant partying, drinking, large scale events in rooms full of strangers, changes in routine and sensory-hostile environments– the list is endless. Naturally, moving to a completely new place is a daunting experience for anyone, neurodiverse or not. There is so much felt but that goes unsaid– behind the chaos of Freshers’ events is a room full of insecure, nervous and intoxicated teenagers.
Before I arrived, the thought of meeting my new flatmates was terrifying, but I hadn’t anticipated the constant and debilitating FOMO that I felt over the course of the week. I was so anxious to bond with my flatmates and dreaded being perceived as the ‘weird’ introverted kid all over again. Some events they were going to together were my idea of hell; things like ‘UV Light Party’ would’ve been a sensory nightmare for me. Despite my spiralling anxieties around my flatmates’ approval, I realised that me spending one night in when they were going out, was not going to destroy the friendships we’d formed in the course of a few days. What Fresher’s week taught me is that you end up bonding in the strangest of circumstances: drunk conversations in the kitchen at 3am, collectively dying of freshers’ flu, and, my personal favourite, accompanying each other on a scenic trip to Glasgow Royal Infirmary at 2am.
My own method of getting through it was to just power through and force myself into going out every night. Whilst this is a shared experience for many freshers, most people are able to gradually recover in the days or weeks subsequent. For my neurodivergent pals out there, it doesn’t quite work the same. Forcing myself to persevere when I’m mentally and physically exhausted means I feel like I’m constantly playing a game of catch up with my brain, even two weeks later. To me, this begs the question: Is the burnout worth it?
So, what could Glasgow Uni do to help? Some universities have schemes in place to support neurodivergent students in their transition to university, such as allowing them to arrive a few days early to familiarise themselves with their surroundings, or creating mentoring schemes, groups and safe spaces to meet other neurodivergent students. Whilst it obviously is not the university’s role to dictate how freshers socialise with one another, they do have a degree of responsibility in making Freshers’ Week accessible. The numbers of diagnosed autistic students in the UK is increasing but one study showed that the degree completion rate is still on average 10 times less than that for a neurotypical student.
Despite this, I don’t want my take on Freshers’ Week to come across as solely negative. Through the chaos I met so many different, amazing people and thoroughly enjoyed many events and nights out. Moving to a new city was of course daunting, but I have found Glasgow to be welcoming, inclusive and vibrant.
[Sophie Taylor-Davies – she/her – @sxphie.td]
Image credits: https://www.gla.ac.uk/study/studentlife/fourstudentbodies/