When University Doesn’t Work Out First Time Round

When University Doesn’t Work Out First Time Round

The post below is written by a colleague of mine, Bev Osborne, with whom I initially connected on a professional level because she is a copywriter—but more importantly in this instance, she is a mom of a student who had special needs when entering university in the UK.

Not realizing that both she and her son needed and should have sought guidance before he entered university, the end result was an aborted attempt at university the first time around.

After learning about her son’s experience when he began his first year of study, I felt it was important, and she was willing, to share both his and her experiences with other families of college-bound students that may have special needs—whether dealing with learning-based issues, physical disabilities or some sort of mental health issue.


Starting University

Ben (and his dad) getting settled at university

Within hours of dropping my 19-year old son, Ben, off at university in September 2012, in England where we live, I got the first text message saying he didn’t fit in with the other guys in his apartment and felt lonely… Then the next day I got another message. Ben felt he wasn’t
ready to start university, felt on a different planet to everyone else, felt out of his depth socially having been struggling with a serious illness for the past three years. He told me he felt years behind everyone else – both in his physical and mental growth, and in his social skills – and felt and way, way out of his depth. I immediately called him on his cell phone. He was in floods of tears saying he hated “everything” and wanted to come home. Right away.

Of course it’s quite normal for some students to have a bit of a rocky ride when it comes to settling in at university. After all, it can be a total culture shock compared to living at home with mom and dad, surrounded by friends and relations.

But my son, Ben, was different from ‘some students’. Since 2009 he’d been battling with anorexia nervosa, a devastating illness that affects boys as well as girls. His illness had resulted in him having to take a lot of time off high school while his therapists and parents worked to save his life. A symptom of the illness is social isolation; Ben had literally cut himself off from his high school community and his friends. He was one lonely, sad young man.

Despite all of this, BeUniversityn was keen to go to university. We did the British college campus tours, just like everyone else. We finally settled for a university fairly close to home so that, in an emergency, it wouldn’t take too long for me to dash down the freeway to the rescue.

And so, in September 2012, we dropped Ben off at his university apartment which he was to share with five other boys.

Three days later, I was back there, this time to bring him home. We took down posters and packed his belongings into boxes; basically doing everything in reverse that we’d done a few days before.

It broke my heart – and it wasn’t too great for Ben, either: all those hopes and dreams having to be put ‘on hold’ while we figured out what to do next.

We spent the next 12 months working hard to get Ben fully recovered and ‘back to normal’. During this year Ben built up a new circle of friends. He also did some voluntary work in a local thrift store and at his old high school. I am incredibly proud of the way he refused to give in to the legacy of his illness and fight to get on with normal life.

The following spring, with the help of the university, we worked on putting together a ‘failsafe’ support package to ensure that Ben’s university experience in September 2013 would be more successful. And happier.

I will talk about exactly what we did in a later post as I’m sure it will be just as relevant to parents in the States as it is to parents in the UK. Suffice to say that it worked – and, as I write, in spring 2016, Ben is sitting his final examinations and plans to go on to do a Master’s Degree at the same university this coming September. He has also made lots of friends, even being elected onto the committee of a university society.

Back in the dark days of 2012, who would have thought this was possible?!




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