As summer comes to an end and many colleges and grade schools are already in full swing, I’ve been thinking about how I made it through four and a half years of college as someone with SMA. It was far from easy, but it was still one heck of a ride. My time at NC State University was by far the most challenging, exciting, and rewarding time in my life, and I recently had an article about this experience published in MDA Quest Magazine.
While I’m a big advocate for people with SMA and other neuromuscular conditions to attend college, I understand that many may have reservations. Beyond the physical challenges, there’s also the logistics of getting from class to class, eating on campus, accessing class materials, and a myriad of other obstacles. There’s no easy solution to meeting these challenges, but I will say that one of the things that helped me the most was balancing in-person classes with online ones.
Online classes are a unique phenomenon with many pros and cons. On one hand, the freedom it provides students can make it easy to procrastinate on coursework. Yet, on the flip side, that freedom enables students to make their schedules more flexible, and as a result, maximize their productivity. This can be especially beneficial for people with SMA, as we’re more susceptible to things like fatigue and stress. Going to multiple in-person classes a day while also managing homework and social lives can be incredibly exhausting, which is why the inclusion of online courses is something to consider when starting college.
I took an average four to five classes a semester, and often one of those was online. I never went below 12 hours or above 16, which I found to be perfectly manageable. Usually, I reserved my online courses for classes that I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about, such as my General Education requirements. Since I stuck with the same major throughout college and was pretty set on what I wanted to do, I liked to spread out my Gen Eds so that I wasn’t taking all of them at the same time. This allowed me to take things like Intro to Cultural Anthropology and Nutrition 101 online, while also taking in-person literature and film courses that were in my major.
Granted, online courses do require a little more discipline and proactivity than a traditional in-person class, but if you can force yourself to keep up with assignments and recorded lectures, it can be extremely helpful. Taking certain courses online allowed me to make my schedule more flexible, sleep in on certain days, and have more time to do homework for my harder classes. Also, since I was active in student organizations like the campus newspaper, I was able to balance my time there with my coursework more efficiently.
Online courses are just one of the many resources today that make it easier for people with SMA to have a fulfilling college experience. There are numerous other technologies and programs that are designed to help us succeed, especially with the amount of disability departments at universities across the country.
If you or someone with SMA you know is considering college, talk to their disability department and look at what kinds of resources the university you’re considering has for students with disabilities. It’s no easy feat, and many universities still have a way to go to provide more accommodations for disabled students, but just know that having SMA and attending college is entirely possible.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.