Monday, June 22, 2015

A Spectrum of Highs and Lows in College, The Rocky Start

I recently participated in a University of California study about autistic people who went to college and/or graduate school. In that study, I was asked about where I went, what my living situation was, my social life, and the best and hardest parts of my years in higher academia. Prior to then, I had looked back on my undergraduate years with a fondness and nostalgia of time well-spent. But when forced to be completely honest with a stranger, I realized it had been far more difficult and trying than I had thought it to be.

Truth be told, being autistic and in college is incredibly tough. But if there's anything I learned, it's not impossible and can have some real benefits. So as my overall career in academia comes to a close, let me describe my college life over a series of posts.

While it doesn't seem like there's an upside to learning you're autistic long after your diagnosis, not knowing meant that I never believed I couldn't have a fairly "normal" life. I didn't think that there wasn't anything I couldn't do if I put my mind to it. And a "normal" life meant that I could go to college, specifically a four-year university program, right out of high school. And being someone who took to academia well, it didn't seem like an unrealistic goal.

I prepared myself as best as I could for what I thought was to come. I took honors and AP classes and applied myself as best as I could. I threw myself into extracurriculars like marching band, orchestra, theater, and my temple's youth group and actually had fun with them. I challenged myself to apply to as many schools as I thought I was qualified for. And while I got more rejections than I would've liked, I ended up getting into four schools.

I was excited for college. I was eager to engage in higher learning and live away from my parents. I had chosen to go to school in northern California - seven hundred miles away from home - and felt that the change of scenery would help me become independent. And I was optimistic that I would have a full social life beyond the confines of high school, especially since I got into a special honors program for my mandated college writing class and would be living among others in that same program.

Needless to say, it was much harder than I thought it'd be. Especially in the first year.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Music is My Boyfriend, My Girlfriend, and Autistically Powerful

I have almost 13,000 songs in my iTunes library.

You read that right. 13,000 songs.

You're probably wondering who the hell could listen to that much music in one lifetime. Well, I can. Or at least I can listen to my playlist of favorite songs over and over again. That playlist has over 2,000 songs and grows by the day. Put it on shuffle and I could always hear something different over five and a half days and not get bored. I constantly search for the newest and most interesting stuff and make playlists upon playlists of my findings. It pumps me up when I need encouragement and calms me down in times of trouble. And from the Walkman to the gift from the gods known as the iPod, I've never gone anywhere my music to listen to.

It's common for autistic people to have an incredible amount of passion in their favorite subjects to the point of developing expertise in them. This is known as having a "special interest", leading to autistic people being called "little professors". Like all things considering autism, it isn't universal across the spectrum but I've seen it more than enough times to understand how people come to that conclusion. I've got a plethora of these "special interests", and while I wouldn't call myself a genius in any of them I certainly keep up with them a bit more than your average bear.

But music isn't what I'd call a special interest of mine. I'm not a musician, although I have played piano and clarinet in the past. Music just helps me understand life and the world as we know it.