What I Learned During My Time in College: Part 1

Hello friends!

It has been a while since I have been able to post. I had been incredibly busy with school, but after four years of incredibly hard work I was able to receive my Bachelor of Science degree yesterday. Throughout my time in college I have learned a lot about myself, my diagnosis, and how college can be different for someone on the spectrum.

I have decided to spend an extensive amount of time covering the various issues that I experienced during my undergrad career, and to reduce the length of each post I am breaking the post into parts, so that each post will cover an individual section of my college experience.

I plan to cover four areas in which I was challenged the most: academics, living on campus, social life, and emotional/mental well being.

I hope to have this series completed within the next couple of weeks. As each part is posted, please feel free to share with anyone you know that could possibly benefit from them.

Thank you for your continued support!

~Meghan

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5 Things That I Want My University to Know About Autism

Hello everyone,

I am very excited for this first installment of my new blog series titled “5 things that I want my…. to know about autism”. I have decided to begin with my university. I would like to include a small note before this post. Some of you probably know that I attend a Christian university. As a result, both the church installment of this series and this particular post will apply to my university. Therefore, I have decided to focus specifically on social and academic aspects in this post, since spiritual aspects will be covered in the post addressed to the church.

5 Things That I Want My University To Know About Autism:

Just because I don’t seem to have a disability, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

I hear this a lot at my university. I don’t always “appear” autistic to those around me at my university. I understand that it isn’t as easy to look at someone and tell that they are autistic, as it is to look at someone and see that they have a physical disability. So I can understand that you can’t always tell immediately that I have autism. But please, stop assuming that just because I don’t “appear” to be autistic that I can’t be autistic (or that I have very little to no struggles as a result of my disability) once I have decided to tell you about my disability. It is extremely difficult and very discouraging to constantly have to defend my diagnosis when people do not believe me simply because that person has not witnessed me struggle as a result of my disability. Some people at my university may never see me at one of the many moments when I am struggling, yet that does not negate the existence of my disability. So please, when I tell you that I am autistic, do not dismiss it and my struggles just because you haven’t witnessed them.

Along the same line, I can assure you that I am not “faking it”.

I could never put myself through this much pain, stress, and anxiety just to pretend to have a disability in order to get academic assistance and supposed sympathy from people. It is not possible to fake struggles in so many aspects of my life. Think about it. I would have to constantly pretend to feel uncomfortable around people, to have sensitivities to pretty much every sense that I have, to not know how to interact with people, to feel isolated and lonely… 24/7. Pretending to have these issues would not be worth the help that I would get from faking a disability.

To my professors: academics are incredibly tough for me, so please don’t give up on me.

I cannot stress how difficult classes can get for me. There are times when, no matter how much I try, I cannot get my brain to retain information because it is preoccupied with a sensory disturbance, or a worry, or something that it has decided to focus on against my will for an extended amount of time. There are times when, even with testing accommodations, tests stress my brain so much that I cannot truly show how much I have learned. There are times when I cannot focus during lectures because of a noise or smell that is very disturbing to my brain. It is very difficult for you to truly understand what I know. If you question me about my knowledge, by brain could get overwhelmed and essentially “shut down”. If you go by my test scores to determine my knowledge, you are only seeing what my brain can reproduce under stress. I don’t know if you can ever truly understand what I know unless you talk to me in the right kind of environment. Even I don’t understand how much I know at certain times. Just please don’t give up on me.

Acceptance is one of the greatest things that could improve how I feel at school.

It is so important to move past “awareness” to acceptance. Awareness does nothing to help me. It just tells the world that people like me exist. What I need is for people to understand (to an extent) the struggles that I go through and why I experience those struggles, as well as how to better assist me as I work through my difficulties. A campus were acceptance flourishes could make my life so much easier. I would not have to worry about facing judgement or a lack of understanding about my disability. I would not have to hide my disability from those around me. I could be completely open with everyone and receive the support and encouragement that I need, instead of having to live in fear.

Anxiety and depression can become worse when an autistic person doesn’t have proper support.

My anxiety and depression can worsen depending upon what I am going through. When I am facing struggles that I am having a hard time overcoming, they can both become much worse if I do not have access to people who are uplifting and willing to help me. The isolation that can result from social difficulties can also increase my depression. My anxiety can rapidly fluctuate throughout the day, depending upon the sensory triggers, social situations, and other stimuli that I am facing. Even with medication, these issues can still fluctuate. These are issues that, no matter how strong I am and how hard I try, still affect me every day. This is why a good support system is so important. With the aid of a support system these issues can be decreased, although never completely removed.

~Meghan

Autism and My Christian Faith

I have often been asked how autism has had an effect on my faith. The answer is not simple, but I think that it is important for me to try to explain what it is like being an autistic Christian.

I know that, from my own experiences and the experiences of others on the spectrum, that there have been difficulties in how the church overall treats autistics. I plan to discuss this issue further in a later post which will be titled “5 Things That I Want My Church to Know About Autism”, therefore I do not plan to address it in this post.

I have learned throughout the expansion of my faith that the autistic Christian likely has a very unique set of challenges that other Christians usually do not have. One of the major struggles that I have faced is Biblical interpretation. Due to the fact that my mind is extremely literal and unable to decipher the meanings of statements unless they are explicitly stated, I have found it very difficult to systematically interpret Scripture without a lot of help. As most Christians would know, there are literature styles within Scripture that require someone to “read between the lines” or interpret because the true meaning of the passage is much deeper than the literal meaning. As a result, I have had to spend a lot of time devising a method of interpretation that works for me. I almost always have to consult a vast number of resources in order to discover the meaning that I should be taking away from a particular passage.

Church attendance itself has also been difficult for me at various points. There are a number of factors that can cause anxiety or meltdowns during a typical service. The music could be too loud, there could be random loud noises (such as children or anything else), the service could last longer than expected, or interacting with people that I don’t know could send me over the edge. The best way to decrease this struggle has been to attend an understanding church that doesn’t mind if I have to step out for a bit if I’m overwhelmed, or if I choose not to walk around and interact with people if I do not feel comfortable.

Finally, the last big struggle that I have faced is evangelism. Evangelism requires interaction with other people (often in the case of my church, strangers) which can be difficult for autistic people. My church has an evangelism event each month where we go out and help the people in our community in some way. This was something that was a challenge for me at first, because the thought of talking with absolute strangers terrified me. I knew that evangelism is a huge part of my faith, so I took small steps in order to become more comfortable with these types of activities. I went from simply walking around with the group and not talking to people, to approaching people with no help whatsoever.

I have most certainly seen God working through all of these struggles to build me into a stronger Christian. He has helped me to improve in all of the areas that I have listed. It has most certainly not been easy, but it has absolutely been worth it. I used to believe that I wouldn’t be as useful in ministry as other Christians, because of my autism. God has shown me along the way that my impact can be just as great as that of a neurotypical Christian, but that my impact will usually occur in ways that only an autistic person could manage. I’ve been involved in ministries that help spread autism acceptance, as well as one that aims to help autistic people who have been bullied. This would not be possible if it weren’t for my autism.

Overall, I think that an autistic person’s Christian faith is challenging in unique ways that would often not be present in a neurotypical’s faith. Both autistics and neurotypicals are essential to the Christian faith, although those of us on the spectrum tend to have challenges that are usually not understood as well. The Christian community could be helped if there were a better understanding of the possible struggles that autistics face within the church, as well as an understanding of how we can aid ministries in our own unique ways.

~Meghan

There Is Nothing “Wrong” With Me

In the aftermath of my previous post (An Open Letter to Anti-Vaxxer Parents from an Autistic Woman), I have received a wide variety of insults. I’ve been called names that I cannot repeat here, I have been told that I am a disgrace to science, but the insult that has stuck out the most has been the assertion that my autism is something that is “wrong” with me.

My autism is not a defect. It is not an unfortunate circumstance that just happened one day. It is NOT something that is wrong with me.

No, it is not a flaw in my neurological wiring. It is simply a difference in how I learn and experience the world.

Is there something “wrong” with those who learn differently? Would you tell a visual, kinetic, or auditory learner that there is something “wrong” with them?

If someone, through their senses, perceives the world differently, would you tell them that something is “wrong” with them?

If someone has a different way of coping with the world around them than you, would you tell them that something is “wrong” with them?

Yes, I handle the world differently. Yes, my experience is different than the experience that a non-autistic person has. Yes, I am still a human being, despite what a lot of people say.

But no, there is nothing “wrong” with me- but there is something wrong with your warped view of autism.

~Meghan

An Open Letter to Anti-Vaxxer Parents from an Autistic Woman

Dear Parents:

Your presence on Facebook and on the internet has been quite prominent lately. I can barely make it through one day without seeing a post from one of you shared on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet.

Let me introduce myself. I am a 21 year old woman. I’m currently studying forensic science in college. I have a passion for science (particularly chemistry), reading, and video games. But above all else, I am autistic.

I have been diagnosed officially with autism spectrum disorder, after a battle that ensued over several years. I have always known I was different, but I never understood why I was so different from my peers. Yes, I have had many struggles when it comes to socialization. Yes, I’ve spent much of my life having attempted to fit in with my classmates. Yes, I’ve had a tough time dealing with sensory issues that have often caused high amounts of stress. Yes, I’m extremely rigid when it comes to routines. However, I have managed to make friends, learn how to adapt to life, and I have successfully pursued a college degree for the past 3 years in the area of my special interest.

Why do you view my fate as one that is worse than a crippling disease or even death? Why?

One of my friends who is also on the autism spectrum, Teighlor Fiddler, sums up what your view says to us on the spectrum well. She says, of those who are against vaccines, that “They rather have dead children than have children like me”. That is exactly what your fight against vaccines (as a result of the “vaccines cause autism” argument) says to those on the spectrum. That you, as parents, would prefer that your child be dead or have a serious disease than have autism.

Stop and think about that for a moment. It tells us on the spectrum that autism is a fate worse than death or crippling disease.

How are we supposed to feel about that, knowing that there are a growing number of parents out there that think that we are worse off than those who are dead? What does that say to us? That we are horrible, worthless, and a waste of space. It does not make us feel hopeful about our future. It makes us feel judged and misunderstood by society. I cannot even begin to put into words how awful this makes me feel, to know that there are parents out there who consider someone like me to be someone who is living a life that is worse than death.

Let me tell you something, autism is not a fate that is worse than death or some of the worst diseases imaginable. And before you ask, no, it is not a disease. It may not make for a life that is smooth sailing all of the time, but it is something that I wouldn’t give up for the world. To assert that a child would be better off living with a horrible disease or even worse, dead, shows great ignorance on your part. It is clear to me that you have not, or will not, see the positive in an autistic person. Because let me tell you, you see absolutely no positive in autism if you consider it worse than death.

Like I’ve said, autism isn’t always a bucket of positivity, but even in the lowest of my moments, I can still see the positives. My autism has given me a passion for forensic science that has allowed me to persevere through all of my academic struggles. Without it, I wouldn’t still be pursuing my passion today. It has given me an outstanding memory that has proved useful throughout my life. It has given me the ability to notice things around me that others often don’t notice.

So tell me again, why is a life like mine worse than death?

Sincerely,

An Autistic Woman who is going to keep fighting against this warped view of autism

The One Word That the Autism Community Hates

To members of the autism community (whether they are family and friends of autistics or autistics themselves), there is one word above all others that systematically creates frustration, anger, and sadness. I’m sure you’ve encountered the use of this word frequently in your life. Modern culture tends to dictate its use as acceptable, and in most cases, funny. I’m sure by now you can guess which word I am referring to. The word that I am referring to is “retarded”.
Even before I was diagnosed as being on the spectrum, I heard that word used frequently. Its usage was very common within the public schools that I attended throughout my childhood and teenage years. It was used to describe things that a person didn’t like, things that people found to be stupid, or also in reference to a situation that someone found frustrating. Not once in my twenty one years of life have I heard the word used in such a way that it follows its true definition.
“Retarded”, according to Merriam-Webster, means “slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development”. However, it is often used in a derogatory fashion which causes members of the autism community to be hurt. This word DOES NOT mean “a way in which to describe something that you do not care for (such as a rival football team)”. This word DOES NOT mean “something that is annoying”. Use of the word “retarded” in such a way only shows your ignorance and lack of respect for those with disabilities. It makes us feel like we are less than human, despised by others, and worthless. There is absolutely NO reason to use this word in any way other than its valid medical definition. Improper use doesn’t make you seem cool, it just hurts others and shows that you do not care one bit.

~Meghan

Things I Wish Everyone Understood About Autism

I have realized lately just how many things there are concerning autism that most people don’t understand. I thought that I would compile a list of things that I wish everyone would understand about autism.

1. It is NOT a disease.

Unfortunately many people do not seem to understand this. I frequently encounter people that think that autism is a contagious, terminal disease. I find it appalling that people actually believe that it is a disease. It is a neurological difference, not a disease!

2. There are often explanations for the seemingly “weird” things that we do.

Whether it involves refusing certain foods, feeling clothing before trying it on, or rubbing our hands together in a certain way, there is an explanation for why it is being done. Most commonly these behaviors are related to sensory sensitivity issues, or are a method of calming oneself. Many people on the spectrum have densities to certain tastes, textures, sounds, and sometimes even light and colors, which leads to behavior that is perceived to be unusual, in an attempt for the person to avoid sensitivities that they have. We also have behaviors such as hand rubbing, flapping, or twisting, in order to help calm our brains.

3. Communication is often overwhelmingly difficult to interpret.

Imagine that you are given a picture and have to determine what is shown in the picture. However, you are only able to see just around 20% of the picture. You would probably have a difficult time doing this most of the time, right? This is a good way to think about what communication is like when you have autism. Around 80% of communication is nonverbal. We often find nonverbal communication to be extremely difficult to interpret, and often we are incorrect in our interpretation of such communication. We have to interpret communication with only 20% of the picture all day every day. Could you imagine that? Living your life being able to understand only around 20% of all communication that you are involved in? That is reality for us every day.

4. Improperly handling situations involving us (and meltdowns especially) will only make things worse.

Nothing hurts more than being told by people that “we should know better” when we mess up. We are usually trying incredibly hard to correctly interpret and handle a situation, but often fail because we have difficulties interpreting such situations. Telling us that we should know better just makes us feel more ashamed and leads to us beating ourselves up mentally and emotionally more. Likewise, screaming at us during a meltdown exacerbates the situation, instead of “snapping us out of it” like most people believe. Meltdowns are often times in which we are in a fragile state, and adding stress onto the situation is not the proper way to react. Often times it will make the meltdown worse.

Hopefully this post leaves you with a better understanding of autism.

~Meghan