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 Dangerous Myths About High Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

So going off of my last post, I finally decided to post my reactions to some of the most common myths about those with Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism in general. I’m appalled by how widely believed these myths are, and I’m hoping to shed some light on the truth, coming from the perspective of an Aspie/Autistic woman. ūüôā

Myth #1: Those with autism or Asperger’s react the same way to all sensory input, including tastes, textures, sounds, etc.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked with people who believe this myth. Quite a few people have heard that those on the autism spectrum have some sensory processing issues, but they wrongly assume that this means that ALL sensory input causes us issues. The truth is that it depends on each individual person. Most people on the spectrum don’t have an issue with all input, but rather specific sounds, tastes, textures, etc. This is the same for me. I only have issues with a few tastes, such as onions and raw tomatoes. When it comes to textures, the only ones that bother me are really rough or scratchy textures, but everything else is perfectly fine with me. In regards to sounds, humming, loud unexpected noises, scratching, and scraping bug me. I do not freak out at every sound, taste, or texture that I encounter. However, if I’m bombarded with lots of different sensory inputs in a short amount of time, I can get extremely stressed out, but this is common among most who are on the spectrum. You should also keep in mind that we experience most sensory input stronger than those who aren’t on the spectrum, but we do not hate all of it and actually quite enjoy some tastes, textures, and sounds.

Myth #2: Those on the autism spectrum hate people and have no desire to interact or form relationships.

This is probably one of the most damaging myths that I’ve encountered. I know that for me, as well as most all of the others on the spectrum that I’ve talked to, we desire friendships and relationships, but just lack the social skills and understanding to properly form them. I would love nothing more than to have quite a few friends and acquaintances, but I often try to stay away from people (not because I don’t like people), because I have trouble with nonverbal communication, understanding humor, deciding what is appropriate to say, etc. These kinds of issues can create difficulties in cultivating relationships. So please don’t think that we don’t want friendships, we do but it is a painful process for us.

Myth #3: Those on the spectrum have no emotions whatsoever. 

This is another incredibly dangerous myth. I encounter a lot of people who think that autism means that you can’t feel anything, and are pretty much an emotionless robot. This is definitely not true! We often experience emotions that are more intense than those experienced by people not on the spectrum, but we often just have difficulties expressing these emotions. I know that for me, I can be extremely excited or upset or happy or sad but to those who see me I look stoic. It’s difficult for us to properly express emotions. We don’t always know how we should display these emotions to others through our body language, or if it is the proper time to display such emotions, etc. We are most certainly not emotionless robots!!!

Myth #4: Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism is just an excuse for individuals to be lazy and not try socially, or get away with being rude.

Yes, people actually believe this myth. I find it appalling. I really do. It’s disturbing that people trivialize my trials and social issues by labeling me as lazy and rude. It’s horrible. Unless you are on the spectrum, you have NO idea what a challenge being autistic is day in and day out. It’s difficult and stressful and emotionally draining. Yes, I try to work to improve my social skills. No, it’s not easy. I’m trying to learn despite having a brain that isn’t wired in the way that everyone else’s is. It’s a battle every day to adapt and learn what everyone else already knows instinctively. Mistakes that I make in the social realm linger with me for years and I feel anguish every time I screw up. So no, I’m not lazy or rude. I just have a brain that is different than yours and makes it difficult to understand proper social interaction.

Myth #5: Those who have High Functioning Autism or Asperger’s can’t amount to anything and are stupid.

Another appalling myth. I know several people on the spectrum who are geniuses and more intelligent than most people who aren’t on the spectrum. I myself am an aspiring forensic scientist. Most of us on the spectrum have a special interest which we obsessively learn about. Mine happens to be forensic science. A lot of us also have an intelligence that is above average. A lot of us can make excellent experts in the area of our special interest. Yes, we are capable of holding down jobs if given the proper help and if those around us take the time to understand us. We aren’t useless, or stupid, not at all. Never let that thought cross your mind!

 

 

Q&A For My Next Blog

As the title suggests, I plan on doing a Q&A for my next blog, since I am often getting questions about Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism in general. I am accepting any questions that you may have. In order for this to work, I do need plenty of people to comment with their questions on this post, or if you know me personally feel free to send them to me through Facebook. I will be accepting questions for one week, until May 19th. Feel free to post whatever question you may think of!

 

~Meghan

A Disturbing Trend

I know it has been a while since my last post, and I apologize for that. I’ve been up to my shoulders in chemistry, calculus, and various other college things. ¬†However, now that I have finished the semester and am on summer break, I have plenty of time to start posting again.

As you all know I just finished my sophomore year in college. Halfway through, woohoo!! This has been a rough year for me because of various social issues I’ve been dealing with. It has been tough for me dealing with all of the complications due to my Asperger’s without accommodations at college. ¬†While dealing with my social problems this past year, I have noticed an extremely disturbing trend. It seems to me that bullying and other cruel behavior towards others has dramatically increased.

This absolutely breaks my heart to see how cruel people are. I have witnessed awful, stereotypical names being used to attack those with disabilities, I have seen people on Facebook and other social media outlets ¬†calling others horrendous names and telling them to go kill themselves, and I have to admit that it makes me sick to see how frequent these occurrences are. It’s absolutely disgusting. It’s as if all compassion has gone right out the window.

It takes everything I have in me to not lecture those people about the hurt that they are causing. I often wonder if people who say these horrible things ever stop and think about the implications of their words. After thinking about it for a while I’ve realized that people today think that they’re free to say anything that they want behind the safety of a computer screen or phone, without having to witness the repercussions of their actions. In order to drive home the effect that these words can have on others, both online and in person, I would like to share my story with you.

I have been bullied my entire life, since I first started school. In elementary school I wasn’t able to make any friends and I was ostracized from the other kids in my class. I was thought of as strange, and my classmates made it clear to me that they thought so. ¬†I was pushed off of slides, called some terrible names, none of the kids wanted to come to my birthday parties, and kids in my classes would even sneak behind the teacher’s back to invite everyone in the class except for me to a party. In middle school things got worse. I was called increasingly terrible names, my classmates would leave their classrooms when I was in the hallway to yell atrocious things to me, rumors spread about me like wildfire, and I still had no friends. I was even told by someone that I could go kill myself and nobody would care. I was so distressed during 6th grade that I began self harming, and when that didn’t help I came very close to attempting suicide. ¬†I ended up transferring schools, and when I began high school I was able to make a few close friends that treated me well. However, a lot of my classmates still called me some terrible names and treated me like a freak. The words that were aimed at me had begun to hurt me even worse. You would think that once I had reached college I would no longer face bullying. You would be wrong. My freshman year of college was terrible. I had people who would find me wherever I went on campus just to attack me with cruel and harsh words. Those who I had considered friends would spread the worst rumors about me that one could imagine. It got so bad that I wouldn’t even leave my dorm room most of the time, in an attempt to avoid as much bullying as I could.

Hopefully my story helps you to realize how significant of an impact “just a few words” can have on someone else. It can make their life miserable, so please, the next time that you think about saying anything remotely cruel towards someone else, consider the impact that it could have upon someone else.

I would also like to announce that I am beginning a new ministry this summer to help kids of all ages deal with bullying, and to teach them how to handle it in a Christian way. This is a topic that has gotten me fired up time and time again, and I am looking forward to helping others by using my less than pleasant experiences.

 

~Meghan

Meltdowns, Meltdowns, Meltdowns…

Since I have been facing a lot of stress and anxiety lately, I thought that I would talk about what often follows when I face a lot of stress: Meltdowns. Meltdowns are common for those who fall on every part of the Autism spectrum, but not every person has them. Likewise what each individual experiences during a meltdown is different.

I will start by talking about what types of things can trigger a meltdown. It can be anything that will bring me stress, such as conversations, people lingering around me for too long, people not leaving when I ask them, too much noise, difficult homework, etc. Meltdowns occur when my senses and brain are so overwhelmed with what’s going on around me that they “erupt” and go into overdrive, or sometimes shut down. When a meltdown is triggered for me, it’s often because I have had to socialize for too long without being given a break to have some quiet time for myself. I can always tell when a meltdown is coming, because I can feel the stress and anger building up inside of me.

If I have been unable to escape from the stress that is bringing on a meltdown, I will go into a full blown meltdown or shutdown and will often have a panic attack, cry, even sometimes scream and try to run away. It’s not often that other people are around to see the results of one of my meltdowns, and it isn’t pretty.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to learn how to keep my meltdowns under control, and it isn’t easy. I still have a long ways to go, but it’s helpful when I have people around me that understand why I have meltdowns and how they can back off to keep me from having one. I’m hoping to get even better at keeping them under control, but it’s a long and difficult road.

Faith, Hope, and Love

Sorry it’s been a while since my last post, I’ve been knee deep in exams and papers.

I thought that I would include three topics in this post. First, how crucial it is for those who fall on the Autism spectrum to have continual faith in ourselves. Second, how we must have hope for our future and the future of Autism awareness. Finally, I’m going to talk about how important it is to show love to those that fall on the spectrum.

I know it can be hard, as someone who falls on the Autism spectrum, to have faith in yourself and believe that you can do amazing things. I’ve struggled immensely with that. There are times where I’ve let myself believe that because of my disability I cannot accomplish what I want in life. I hope to be a scientist one day and I’ve encountered people that have told me to give up on that dream because of my AS, but I refuse to do that. The only way you can make it through life’s challenges if you fall on the spectrum is by having faith in yourself. You are special. You can do whatever you set your mind to. Don’t let someone else tell you that you can’t make your dream come true because you fall on the spectrum. It may take a lot more work to achieve (I’ve definitely found this out), but I promise that you can do it if you believe in yourself.

Hope is another important thing. We need to have hope for the future, hope that one day people will truly understand what living on the spectrum is like. I know how discouraging it is that the world hasn’t quite accepted us and how we are, but eventually they will get there. There is a huge emphasis put on awareness for several disabilities, autism being one of the largest, nowadays but that doesn’t mean that everyone understands it. I’ve met several people who don’t understand how varied the spectrum is and expect me to be the same as someone who falls on the other end of the spectrum. We all share a common heart, but our sensitivities and dreams and routines are all unique. I did see an encouraging video the other day. It was at a celebrity event for autism awareness, and an 11-year-old girl got to do a duet with her idol, Katy Perry. It was an incredibly moving video, and shows that some people are beginning to see the magic that is inside of us. If you would like to see that video, you can find it at:

http://mashable.com/2012/10/19/katy-perry-firework-autism-jodi-dipiazza/#:eyJzIjoiZiIsImkiOiJfa2k4amRsZXBwa2xrb2N5aSJ9

Finally, I just want to emphasize how important it is to show love to those of us who fall on the spectrum. We deserve to be cared about just as much as anyone else. Unfortunately we are often snubbed or treated like we are aliens on this planet. If you could see just how big our hearts are, you would think differently of us. Please, if you know anyone who falls on the spectrum, tell them how much they mean to you and how much you care. It will make a world of a difference, believe me.

~Meghan

The Most Misunderstood Challenge in My LIfe

I decided to write about an issue that I’ve been having since I started college, that those around often dismiss or laugh away. I definitely fit the stereotype of the super intelligent nerd, so when I discovered in college that classes aren’t as easy for me as I expected and that I may need to develop some new strategies to handle them, everyone around me looked at me with disbelief.

I have to admit that at first I also experienced some disbelief. I’m intelligent, always did well in school, so why would I suddenly have problems in college? I had went from being able to do homework with such ease to spending increasing amounts of time studying and trying to comprehend what I was learning. Had I not been as intelligent as I was growing up? Did I somehow lose my intelligence as the years passed by?

After some thinking I realized that I didn’t have problems in high school because it is formatted in an incredibly different way that college. In high school the activities often required the memorization of certain facts and formulas and the regurgitation of those items on exams. My brain can handle memorization in most cases pretty easily. When I was younger I was able to easily memorize the spelling of words upon words while participating in spelling bees. I could remember complicated routes to places that I had only been to once. College, on the other hand, has a completely different format. Assignments are more intricate and require a lengthy thought process. It’s not just simple memorizing and spewing anymore.¬†

I’ve come to terms with the fact that the way that my brain is wired up is going to make things different for me in college. I can’t do assignments and exams the same way that my peers do. I have to find different environments to take my exams in so I can focus, and I have to find studying strategies that work around how my brain functions.

I am by no means stupid. The material I’m learning is in my brain. It just takes a different way to get the material out of my brain as compared to other students. Just because I do things differently doesn’t make me useless or stupid.