A Different Student Experience…

This article is published anonymously in support of John’s Welfare Week. The John’s-Chad’s Festival of Wellbeing is this Sunday the 24th of February, you can find more details on the Facebook event here.

No, I’m not like Sheldon Cooper and no, I can’t play the piano blindfolded. It’s a question I’m often asked, what it’s like to have autism and study here. The answer is one that Psychologists claim to know, but I don’t. I have never experienced anything different. How can Psychologists know when most of them are neurotypical and do not share our life experiences? However, that would make a very short blog and I was told to produce something interesting.

Klute seems like some zoo of flashing lights and overwhelming noise

I’m not a sociable person at all. Klute seems like some zoo of flashing lights and overwhelming noise and I don’t understand these meaningless social occasions where people get together and talk about trivial topics such as what salad they had last night or whatever you southerners talk about. They don’t achieve anything. I have been accused of enjoying my own company. In busy social situations such as formal, I feel spaced out and dizzy with all the people talking. I have only been to two social occasions in my time at Durham. That’s not to say that I am a complete recluse. I have friends around John’s and I prefer to talk to them in a more civilised way rather than in a nightclub drunk. What do you even say to people to go out socially? My issue is that I can’t just sit down and do trivia, I have to be occupied with something all the time otherwise I get restless.

Many people think that Autism is just not being able to socialise with other people. But, I feel that the part which most seriously affects me is the sensory issues. You might think a screaming baby on a flight or a barking dog is a bit annoying. For me, it causes me sharp pains in my hands and toes as well as shock and heart palpitations afterwards. I also feel faint after hearing unpredictable loud pitched noises. I’m always on edge waiting for the next sudden high pitched noise. From this, I have picked up an extra condition of IBS, it’s really not glamorous. When I get unwell, I have complete sensory overload and confusion about which part of my body hurts. Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by the environment in a lecture theatre and it makes my arms feel light and my body overheats.

I was told that it was unlikely that I would achieve qualifications. How wrong were they – PhD here I come!

Then, there are the educational challenges. People often think that I’m (supposedly) intelligent doing the degree that I am, but I have not always achieved well academically. I was told that it was unlikely that I would achieve qualifications and that I would be in a special needs school because I am developmentally delayed. How wrong were they- PhD here I come! School was not easy, the environment was noisy with other pupils being loud and annoying, constant shouting and being on edge about when the next person would shout. I would feel dizzy for a lot of the time and teachers were unreceptive to my needs, probably because the Government is putting them under so much pressure with 32 in a class. I couldn’t learn in normal school lessons, I ended up at the end of the school day having to teach myself the content; often late into the night. I didn’t ever go out with people or socialise outside the school environment during my 7 years at secondary school; I just didn’t feel a connection with my classmates following the flock.

Discrimination is a daily part of living with the condition. I don’t write this blog wanting sympathy, I want to show you that I’m not some outcast and that we have rights in the same way the next person does. I write this blog anomalously for that reason. I have experienced discrimination in various forms, sometimes through being denied the support I needed, at worse violence and threats; the reason I write this blog anomalously. It’s not easy to get the support you need, you are called in for a degrading assessment with a certain devious organisation (I can’t legally mention the name here) and I feel that my complaints are taken less seriously by the system due to my condition. I often find that complaints escalate to the point of having to go to Court to defend my rights. Society thinks that they’re not affected so they will not stand up for our rights and they will just be a bystander, not wanting to upset the gravy train. We live with the consequences of discrimination every day. If you have a disability, you are inevitably going to get caught up in some political activity at some point in your life. Just happens that I have a lot of experience!

It’s not all doom and gloom living with Autism

It’s not all doom and gloom living with Autism. There are many advantages to having ASD such as an ability to focus for long periods of time, useful for the degree I’m studying. I think that I am less tied to social conventions and I don’t feel any pressure to conform. Because of my literal interpretation of policies and laws, it makes me a thorn in the side of people who think that discrimination is acceptable. I’m not simply a recluse who refuses to communicate with anyone, I enjoy the intellectual discussions about topics other than what salad you had last night, or what coffee you are going to have in flat white (or wherever you go). I have absolutely no interest in social occasions, I don’t see the point!

Who knows, maybe the editorial team will bribe me with more brownies to produce a follow up blog, I would be quite amenable to that with how good the brownies were at the re-launch party!

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