Students with an ASD have elevated levels of anxiety and are prone to becoming clinically depressed. One parent commented that ASD students operate 'on a level of anxiety that is equivalent to Year 12 students, all the time'. The stress and anxiety may come from a range of factors and some are listed below.
Classes and workload
a) Academic issues such as not understanding the lesson and being overwhelmed by the workload.
Student: I got a form that lets me get extensions because sometimes I freak out a bit. People can’t really see it. I just keep it inside.
b) Not being able to communicate with the academic staff.
Student: I’ve had a screaming fit in the middle of the corridor at the admin building. My particular lecturer walked away from me when I asked for help and I said, don’t you walk away. And I really lost it.
Routine and structure
c) Change in routine and transition into tertiary education; staff support can be a great help.
Staff member: When there was a stand-in teacher for two weeks only, I actually requested that that teacher come and meet the whole class, but I wouldn't normally do that. I made it as though it was something that happens that here's your teacher who you're going to have in two weeks' time. But I did that primarily because of that student that's on the spectrum to ease the anxiety and to also keep in mind that if a teacher was going to be away that I would consciously again have to have in the back of my mind, 'Well how's such and such going to cope with that?'.
Staff member: There does seem to be a common denominator that when they begin their first year, that is incredibly stressful and at the start of each year it is stressful, but that stress lessens over time. But certainly that first transitional period from wherever they've come from to university is quite extreme in some cases.
Co-morbid mental health conditions
d) Many students with an ASD have other co-morbid conditions including anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, and clinical depression, which need to be considered in relation to accommodations made to support ASD students and interactions with them.
Parent 1: My daughter rebels or sometimes she would go into a deep dark depression and it’s quite common for Asperger’s to have depression with what they have as well. She’s on medication for that. Parent 2: So is mine.
Student: Overwhelm is my middle name. When you have OCD on top of ASD it’s just a nightmare. Every surface in the world is a scary thing and every day a process is an obstacle course of stress. Yeah everything is overwhelming. Getting out of bed is overwhelming. Going downstairs to breakfast is overwhelming.