College for Students with Autism and Learning Disabilities: Planning and Time Management

College for Students with Autism and Learning Disabilities: Planning and Time Management

College for Students with Autism and Learning Disabilities: Planning and Time Management

Learning planning and time management skills is essential for college students with autism and other learning disabilities.


For all young people, the college years are filled with growth, change and new experiences. It is also typically the first time they experience independent living and a sense of “freedom” from parents. While that freedom can help them grow and mature, it can also contribute to many difficulties for new students, and especially those who have autism or other learning disabilities. At Transitions, near Albany, New York, we teach our students many strategies and techniques to overcome some of the challenges they experience with time management so they can be successful at college, work and beyond.

Challenges with Staying on Task and Time Management
Many elements can contribute to a student’s difficulty with staying on task and time management, but more common factors include: 

  • Feeling unprepared – If a student is unclear about what to do on a homework assignment or is unfamiliar with the material, it can be extremely difficult to feel motivated to complete the task, let alone get started.\
  • Perfectionism – Many college students suffer from perfectionism, or setting personal standards to unattainable levels. Fear of doing less than a perfect job on schoolwork can trigger putting off tasks, or procrastination.
  • Overscheduling – Being overextended, or having too much on one’s plate, can be particularly overwhelming to students with autism or learning disabilities. Overscheduling can make it nearly impossible for them to meet timelines and follow through with obligations.
  • Time wasters – Whether intentional or not, there are many things we all do every day that can contribute to putting off more important (but less interesting) tasks. People regularly waste time surfing the Internet, watching television or movies, playing video games, socializing and more.

Regardless of why time management is a struggle in college for students with autism or learning disabilities, there are certain skills that, if cultivated, can be effective in improving their ability to schedule, plan and be productive.

Time Management and Motivation Skills in College for Students with Autism and Learning Disabilities
Effective time management skills are essential in a variety of settings, including work, school and even home life. Since young adults with autism or learning disabilities often do not pick up on these skills naturally like their neurotypical peers do, it is important to directly teach them to these students. Establishing strategies for time management can be essential to promoting productivity and reducing stress throughout a person’s life.

  • Communication – Transitions teaches its students self-advocacy and communication skills to help them seek clarification or assistance from their teachers, tutors and peers when they do not understand an assignment or the course material.
  • Self-awareness – Transitions’ Self-Advocacy and Leadership curriculum includes a section on self-awareness, which helps the student come to terms with their strengths and weaknesses to achieve their best possible work. Transitions staff and mentors also help students set realistic expectations to ensure success in all things they put their mind to. Self-awareness can even help students identify how they typically “waste time” and set limits through scheduled down time, setting alarms to make sure they don’t lose track of time during fun activities and more.
  • Prioritize tasks – Understanding how to prioritize tasks is vital to academic success. Prioritizing encompasses identifying which task has the closest deadline or is most urgent and completing that task first. Transitions recommends its students use calendars to track deadlines and test dates, then keep checklists of all obligations. Being able to cross items off a list can help the student sort their priorities, visualize their progress and motivate them to finish.
  • Break down tasks – After identifying the task or overall goal the student wants to accomplish, Transitions recommends they break it down into smaller goals to make the assignment feel more approachable. This might mean choosing to focus on one section of a paper at a time (i.e., concentrating on the introduction paragraph before thinking about the rest) or breaking down a research project into component steps (picking a topic, researching the topic, taking notes, making an outline, etc.).
  • Schedule tasks – Once a task is broken down into smaller goals, it can be helpful to actually schedule a target day/time by which each goal or step should be completed. Transitions recommends students use their calendars and daily planner to keep track of these deadlines. In addition to homework and school-related tasks, Transitions students use their planners to schedule other important obligations, such as social activities, exercise, relaxation time, medical appointments, work schedules, etc. Planners can be some of the most powerful tools to help with overall time management, as long as they are checked and updated at least twice a day.

To find more resources on transitioning to college for students with autism or learning disabilities and learn how Transitions programs can help, contact us at (518) 775-5384.

About the Author:

Priya Winston is a social worker and Self-Advocacy and Leadership instructor at Transitions. Since she was diagnosed with Turner syndrome and nonverbal learning differences as a teenager, Priya is uniquely equipped to give the Transitions students firsthand, personalized counseling on how to ask for and use accommodations to succeed at college and in the workplace. She received her Master of Social Work from the State University of New York at Albany in 2017 and is currently working toward her Ph.D. in Social Work.