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A student’s perspective on navigating autism and higher ed

To observe Autism Acceptance Month, the Early Bird is highlighting student stories and insights.

April 13, 2021

Students walking across Auraria campus with Denver skyline in backgroundTo honor Autism Acceptance Month, the Metropolitan State University of Denver Access Center and the Department of Speech, Language, Hearing Sciences have collaborated in developing a series of short articles on autism.

This month, the Early Bird will highlight the experiences and perspectives of three autistic students. Thank you to these student contributors, who have chosen not to share their names, for providing valuable insights and for helping our entire University community work toward greater academic access and inclusivity.

Early Bird: What would you like faculty, staff and your fellow students to understand about autism?


On awareness and stigma

I think that people in general could be more aware about the symptoms of autism. People should also know that the autism spectrum is wide. Just because it isn’t obvious in the first two minutes of meeting doesn’t mean we don’t have it. If there could be some sort of understanding that our symptoms might make it seem like we aren’t interested in (the conversation) or if (someone) could consider my inability or difficulty with body language and verbal communication when we interact, that would be nice. People don’t need to put in much effort, but if they instead thought to themselves, “Wow, this guy puts a lot of effort into communicating. I know he has trouble with it, but he’s doing well at communicating with verbal/body language,” rather than, “This guy barely has autism. He seems fine to me. He’s just bored or really tired and blames it on autism.”

On communication and expression
Sometimes, people (misinterpret) my monotone voice or facial expressions while communicating and think I am uninterested or upset when that isn’t the case. Or people think I am not enjoying an experience. I remember getting an Xbox when I was about 11 years old, and the store clerk said that I was the only kid who did not get excited about getting an Xbox. It made me feel bad. I was excited; I just didn’t really know I had to try and show it.

Additionally, when I received my first computer as a teenager, there was a misunderstanding. All summer long, I begged my parents to get me a laptop, and then on my birthday I was given the exact one I wanted and more! In general, I am a pretty grateful guy. I was hyped; I was stoked, but no one could see it. Apparently, to all my family, I seemed sad or disappointed. I was bugged for what seemed like hours with “What's wrong?” and told that I “seem ungrateful and rude because I can’t even smile or act excited and that anyone else would appreciate it more.” I didn’t understand why everyone was balking at me. Still, I feel bad to this day for not reacting how they expected and letting my excited parents down, but I didn’t really know that I was doing anything wrong.

On autism acceptance

(I was) diagnosed (with autism) at a young age, but since my autism isn’t super-obvious all the time, it seems like people tend to forget about it and get upset that I don’t seem happy or talk much. My aunt once told me that I am the type of person who could win the lottery and not even crack a smile. I’m not sure how to feel about these things, but they stick with me and remind me that I seem different to other people. I just wish people were a bit more considerate of these things; however, it’s hard to ask for because for that to happen I’d need a flashing sign on my back 24/7 with a disclaimer for passersby that says, “I’m on the autism spectrum.” So it’s a weird situation and probably unsolvable. I don’t know what exactly to recommend. Take these short anecdotes and form your own idea. 

Thank you again to this student for sharing their story, and look for more student insights next week.

Topics: Access, Community, Inclusion, Student Success

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