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Going through university with autism

Aged 25, Ben Booth is not a typical undergraduate university student, but he has finally found the course and career path that works best for him 

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Ben Booth

December 18 2017
Going to university with autism


When starting university, many people are 18, just leaving home for the first time, and comparing their A-level results.

However, I do not fit into any of these categories because I’m 25 and approaching the end of my first term studying specialist sports journalism at the University of Derby.

Let’s skip back eight years, to the time when most of the people who are on my course were still at primary school and I was just finishing my GCSEs. I have a learning disability called autism and I had a dreadful time at school, including bullying and being left out.

Throughout my time in Year 11, I thought that I wanted to study media at college. I applied for media studies at a local institution and went marching into the interview excited at the prospect of a new adventure. It didn’t go very well. I got turned down because my writing skills weren’t good enough.

When collecting my GCSE results, I remember walking into the school hall, knowing that I was going to fail. I opened the envelope and saw straight Fs (and a D in science) and thought “what now?”

Going to university with Asperger’s syndrome

As I sat in my mum’s car on the way back from results day, I flipped through the college prospectus, not sure what to do next. I stumbled across catering and so began a fateful year of making other people’s food. That didn’t go well. I just about passed but at least I learned how to cook!

While everyone else in my year left college and went to university, I started my second year at a special needs college that really changed my life and made me realise that I didn’t have to take exams and have qualifications to get where I wanted to be.

I left home for the first time and learned how to be away from my family and how to live in a different city. It took a long time but I finally settled in and gained lots of new skills including social skills, how to work with my hands, and making jewellery. I also spent three years travelling the length of the UK.

I realised that I could follow a career that didn’t involve working in an office or one that required a degree and this led me to discover my passion for photography. In 2013, I took a camera to a track meet in Dublin and took some photographs. People liked them and I realised that I enjoyed taking photos. What I didn’t realise was the journey that it was about to take me on.

In the five years that followed, I travelled in England and Europe, made lifelong friends and learned about other cultures and work ethics in different countries. In a few months, I will be jetting off to Australia to cover the Commonwealth Games. I never would have dreamed such a thing was possible when I was 16. 

I discovered that I loved the thrill of photography, travelling, hotel rooms and the different people who I get to meet, as well as weekends, weeks and months away. I’m much happier when I’m out on the road and doing something that I love rather than sitting at home watching television.

That brings me to today. Thanks to the support of the University of Derby, some great tutors and people on my course, I am studying towards a degree in specialist sports journalism. This is something that I never thought possible before and it is something that I still can’t quite believe is happening. It’s hard work and tiring, but I expected that and I truly enjoy the challenge.

Getting on with coursemates who are up to eight years younger than me has been a challenge at times. The partying and drinking culture of university is something that I just don’t enjoy. As well as the large workload, the whole experience has been quite a shock.

However, the point that I’m trying to make is, if I can do it, so can you. If you’re reading this and questioning whether university is right for you, just do it. Jump in with both feet and take every opportunity that is handed to you. Because in the end, if you never try, you’ll never know.

Read more: top 10 university hacks from some of the UK’s most successful students and graduates

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