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Showing posts from March, 2007

Struggling Even Now

Even as an adult in my mid-30s, I am struggling as a graduate student. I can do the work, I can read the texts, but I am struggling. What is the issue? Probably the most important of all: In eight months I have yet to form a single personal connection within my doctoral program. My social anxiety is too high to attend gatherings. I keep thinking I'm going to attend an event, but I have only managed to attend a play -- nothing else outside of classes. I fear going to campus, much of the time. It takes a lot of energy to attend class. Sadly, I sit and shake in my classes, even though I don't hesitate to speak. Classmates have called me "The Ghost" to my face. I'm an outsider. The importance of connections cannot be overstated. You need to connect with classmates and with instructors. I would tell any student that you need a mentor in a degree program. Without a mentor and a clear goal, you will struggle -- as I am doing now. A mentor helps you nav

Telling My Story

I wasn't even thinking about writing on or talking about my story until I arrived in Minnesota. Here's one reason that changed: "You're not really helping anyone if you become some sort of activist or motivational speaker." I wasn't sure how to respond. A professor was suggesting I not tell my story. At the time, I was only considering whether or not to disclose to other instructors and students that I had some medical conditions that were less obvious than my occasional use of a cane. Anytime I'm told what not to do, I start to question why. "You risk giving people false hope if you tell them anything is possible. You should instead argue for more public assistance and protection." There it was. Silly me, I might make the mistake of being a role model and not the type approved of by this professor. I wouldn't be proving how terrible America was, how unfair life is, or whatever beliefs this professor held. She could sense I

Thoughts on Depression

Many of the postings to blogs, bulletin boards, forums, and other forms of online expression I have read seem to reflect serious depression. Leaving aside the question of does online use cause depression or reflect it, I sense the postings do reveal a problem experienced by many HFA/AS individuals. When people gather and complain, it might be that each new posting is simply venting. There is a sense that if others can complain, so can I. But I believe it is much deeper for autistic individuals. How can you not be depressed at time when social connections are difficult? How can you not wonder what it is like to understand vocal tones and facial expressions without having to memorize pages from books on body language? How can you not feel isolated when so many people avoid you? Put simply, when your social skills are the ones most affected by your disability, it is only logical that you will suffer some periods of depression related to the isolation we experience. Everyone

Too Many Disorders and Syndromes?

There are people I consider mental health hypochondriacs. They read a list of "symptoms" and self-diagnose themselves with everything from attention deficits to autism disorders. If there's a way to excuse a lack of success, self-control, organization, healthy relationships, and general contentment, these people will find it in a book or on a Web site. Worse, we have parents and teachers labeling students in ways that might end up doing real harm to future generations. I'll offer the standard disclaimer: I do believe there are disorders and conditions affecting a lot of students. I also admit that some might be more common than in the past — might be, but not necessarily are. What qualifies me to say this? Aren't I being a hypocrite if I'm accepting the label of "autistic" and writing about my experiences? Blunt answer: I was seriously injured during birth. I do not doubt my medical history is being overlaid with current trends in psyc

Never Being Normal Is Better

As I compile my notes for essays and a book, I realize how much easier it is to be considered "different" your entire life versus a late-in-life diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. The more I read about and communicate with AS students and adults, the more I appreciate their unique experiences. I was never considered normal, so my eccentricities were tolerated. Independent study was offered more than once, which I loved. When you are perceived as perfectly normal, I imagine things must be more difficult. No one believes you when you complain about sounds, smells, textures, or colors. You're considered moody or depressed. Any difficulties in class are confused with learning disabilities or ADD. At least no one expected normalcy from me.


Probably the most difficult decision anyone with a developmental disorder can make is who to tell and how. I certainly do not have a good answer for either question, since I resist the labels experts have offered. There are benefits to disclosure, based on the experiences of others. First, you have "official" recognition, which includes various protections legally. If I have a problem related to my physical limitations, it helps to have some legal basis when seeking corrective measures. Second, the reality in my field (education) is that a disability can be an asset, increasing your value to a university. The obvious negatives to disclosure relate to the biases and even fears people have regarding neurological conditions. Most of us know that a palsy is not contagious. Tremors do not spread from me to my students or classmates. My long list of behavioral glitches are also not going to spread throughout the classroom. Yet there are those who cannot deal with difference.