I just did an interview for a piece in the Miami Herald newspaper about autism and college. Because I’m sure it’ll be edited down for length, I want to post my answers here. I hope you guys like reading these.
When were you diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome?
I was diagnosed at 25. My parents didn’t believe in psychiatry, so the only psych I saw as a child was the one who put me in the gifted program at school. This was 1988, so Asperger’s wasn’t a thing back then. I always knew something wasn’t quite right and I was excited to learn what it was. I’ve also since been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Synesthesia.
How has having Aspersion’s affected your time in college?
Asperger’s effects everything I do, college or not. In college, it aids me in a lot of ways. For instance, I can study topics very deeply, allowing that I’m interested in them. I don’t have a strong need to be social, so I’ve never had problems with that effecting my grades. On the bad side, my stubbornness can cause me to butt heads with professors at times. I’ve had more than one spirited debate about policies or assignments that I thought were silly.
Does your school provide any support to make your experience easier? Do you want or even need additional support? What would that look like?
Yes, the schools I’ve attended have been pretty good about providing supports for me (with one exception I don’t want to go into detail on). I have a list of accommodations that I am given in all my classes to let me be on an even playing field with the other students. I do need these accommodations. When I was undiagnosed, I flunked every class in high school. My teachers treated me like I was being difficult on purpose back then. I dropped out and got my GED. Now that I have supports, my college GPA is 3.8 and I’m a member of two different honors societies. It feels good to know I can succeed if given a proper chance.
How long have you been blogging? Why did you decide to create Asperger’s Issues? Do you know the size of your audience?I’ve been blogging non-stop since 1999, before most people had heard of it. I liked writing about my experiences and sharing with others. I also have a bad memory for dates, so I used it to remember when things happened. My fianceé and I based the date of our anniversary off the day we both blogged about our first kiss. Yeah, we’re both geeks ;)I created my autism blog because one of my obsessive habits is RSS. I was reading so many articles about autism and some were pure bunk, but others were really useful. I also collect images around the web if I find something I like. When I was first diagnosed, I had a hard time finding others to relate to and parsing through the bad information (and there’s a lot of that). I started the blog to help other people find good information and to have someone to relate to. My audience is extremely large– Larger than I expected. I don’t want to throw out a number, but it’s the largest following any of my blogs have ever had.
How do you maneuver yourself through classic collegiate experiences like speaking with professors in office hours, working in group projects, dating, or studying?
I have several coping mechanisms for college. I email all my professors instead of going to office hours, if I can help it. One of my accommodations is that I need to have consistent email contact. Another accommodations is that I don’t participate in group projects. I always do individual work, so that’s never become an issue for me. My fianceé and I live together (and have for almost ten years), so dating isn’t a big issue. We’re both autistic, so interacting for us has been easy. Studying can be a bit of an issue as far as timing. I need recovery time after being on campus all day. I never schedule classes on Friday through Sunday. I use Friday and all my evenings to relax, destress, and do things that calm me down. Saturday, I do housework and some school work, and then I study all day on Sunday. I have great focus, so it’s hard for me to get overwhelmed with a single day cramming.
What made you decide to study entomology? What are some of your long term goals?
For entomology, bugs have been an interest since I was two. I’ve always caught bugs and kept them in cages as a kid and adult. I’ve devoured books that others would find too dry to read more than a page in. At 16, I bought my first tarantula and that sent me into a buying frenzy. Since then, I’ve bred and raised more than 120,000 tarantulas over the years. I currently have about 50. So going into entomology was an easy choice. I originally had the goal of finishing my BS and then going into a research type of job, but after spending so much time in college, I’ve learned that academia is the perfect fit for someone like me. I even think that around 1/3 of my professors might have Asperger’s themselves. As such, I want to finish a doctorate in entomology and then teach college. This has the added benefit of allowing me to do research as well.
Is there anything that you think the public wrongly assumes about people with Asperger’s?
The biggest thing that the public has wrong about the autistic out there is that it’s a childhood disease. They seem to think that we grow out of it, it seems. Autism (which includes Asperger’s) is a life long condition. A person’s brain is wired very differently. We are born autistic and we will always be autistic. The only thing that may happen in adulthood is that we might become better at hiding it. We can sometimes learn how to pretend to be “normal,” but it’s incredibly draining. Those who say I seem so normal when they meet me would probably be shocked to see me later the same night, in the fetal position, rocking on the couch to calm myself back down. I try to save that for private moments. Sorry, I’m rambling ;)
If I’m asked any more questions, I’ll post those here as well.