Monday, November 30, 2009

What if?

I went to a small, Christian college and graduated in 3 1/2 years. I wish that I could say my college experience was a dream come true, but it wasn't. It was hard. I struggled a lot, not academically, but with the day-to-day aspects of living in the dorms. I couldn't stay organized. I couldn't manage to take my medications regularly. I struggled to eat and sleep with any regularity. I was so overwhelmed with all the social interaction of daily life that I often avoided the cafeterias and refused to go to any fun events on the weekends. In fact, sometimes I got so overwhelmed that I missed classes and just completely fell apart. I'd hide in my room, in the dark, for several days. I had trouble interacting with certain professors, who I just rubbed the wrong way somehow, and received more than one nasty email. One professor called me, via email, "the rudest, most disgusting individual with whom I've ever hd contact." No, college was no dream.

I got my ASD diagnosis right around my 21st birthday. Leigh and I had known since that fall that that's what it was, but then, it was official. I contacted the counseling center on campus, who said that no one there was familiar with HFA or Asperger's and that they really couldn't help me, but that they wished me luck. That was right after Christmas. I knew by then that maybe I shouldn't try to student teach. I knew then that I wasn't just like everyone else... I finally had a reason for why I struggled in all the ways that I did each day. I wasn't even sure that I wanted to student teach. I talked to my on-campus supervisor about my recent diagnosis and what it meant, practically. I was nervous that my co-op would take me the wrong way, as several professors had done in the past. You see, I'm so bad at what I call being fake that I get myself into trouble. I guess sometimes you have to be fake, and student teaching is one of those times. My supervisor told me that she understood, that she would work closely with me. She did not want me to disclose my autism to my co-op teacher, however, nor to anyone else in the college education department. I still had to pretend to be normal.

I went on to student teach anyway, and I fell apart. My world become hell. It was far too abrupt of a transition for me. My irregular sleeping, eating, and medication taking was a big part of the problem. I had so much work to do that I never had time to sleep anymore, and I couldn't live like that. I started to get migraines all the time (and I do mean all the time), which caused me to hit myself and bang my head on the walls frequently. I had several ER trips due to the severity of the migraines. I missed my first, and then my second day of student teaching, when the migraines got so bad I was throwing up all night. How was I supposd to go in like that? It was at that point that my supervisor spoke with my co-op and the head of the education department. Even though the root of the problem was that I was being over-socialized, she still did not disclose that I had autism. Together, as a group, they all decided that I should stop student teaching. I was too grateful to be angry. I just wanted out at that point.

I spent the semester working fewer hours (3 full days and 2 mornings) in the on-campus pre-school. I disclosed my autism to the director. I still got in trouble for something I couldn't have helped once, which I didn't think was fair, but she got over it quickly and so did I.

Here's the problem: I had to take a letter grade of D in all 14 credits of student teaching. That was a huge blow. I still graduated Magna Cum Laude, but I would have graduated Summa if not for the Ds. Those Ds hurt, because I knew that I had truly tried my best. They were not what I had earned through my semester of hard work; they were arbitrary.

Now here is my question. What if my campus had had a disability counselor? What if I hadn't had to take those Ds? What if my college had been able to make accommodations for me in student teaching, and I had been able to succeed? What if?

I was talking to a friend online earlier today, and she brought up a good point. What if? What if I'm the one to make that point to the college? What if I find a way to speak with a disability counselor on another campus and find out how they can help my campus? What if I'm the impetus needed to get the ball rolling?

What if the next person doesn't have to go through what I went through? What if someone says, "What about student teaching?" to them years, not weeks, before they're to start? What if someone makes accommodations for them? What if they succeed, and show the college and the world that people with autism can make fantastic teachers?

What if?


  1. Lydia, what an awful time you had to endure. I'm so sorry. Clearly your supervisor did not have a clue. The What If's you ask are so important and I hope you will forward this post to a dean or department head at the college. Perhaps, as well, contact a disability counselor at a larger Christian college?

  2. Yes exactly, what if. I'm in a similar situation; I am fairly sure I would have dropped out at the beginning of this year if I didn't have the level of support I currently receive.

    So, why not try and do something about it?

    On a completely unrelated note, have you ever seen All the captions over the cats kept me entertained all evening.

  3. Well, if you feel strongly enough about it and strong enough in yourself I think you should do it. Stand up for all those who come after you, and make the point of how they failed you. If you were in a wheel chair they would have put a lift in for you. You are not asking for something unreasonable.

  4. I absolutely agree with all the above, what a dreadful time you had. well done for just surviving. Go for it with talking about this issue if you think you can.

  5. I'm so sorry you went through this, Lydia. And I agree with the comments above.

    Why do you think your supervisor advised you not to disclose your autism? Why did it have to be such a secret? Controversial as an autism diagnosis can be when first given as an adult or to someone high functioning, such as yourself, it is a widely, recognized disorder and disability. It may have helped your teachers understand you better. At the very least, they could have googled it and read up on the condition.

    Several years ago, I was pulled over for speeding. I had just received a disheartening phone call about my son and was rushing home. No one was there waiting for me, I just felt like I needed to be home and had no idea how fast I was driving. Later in the day, my son's therapist told me I should have played the autism card: "You should have told the cop that your son has autism and you were rushing to meet the bus in time or else all hell would break loose." I looked at her in disbelief. It was not at all the truth, first of all. And second, I was not going to go down this path of blaming autism for every unfortunate thing. Whatever my distractions, I had the responsibility to drive, carefully, and if I couldn't, I needed to pull over.

    Lydia, you weren't asking for an A for work that you didn't do or a free pass, like this therapist above was suggesting to me. Given the opportunity, you would have gladly done something else to avoid those Fs. If the decision makers knew about your autism, do you think they would have taken the time to fully consider your situation? Maybe they could have allowed you to volunteer in a related way and receive some sort of credit. Maybe they could have assigned you to observe and follow other student teachers for a semester and write a little thesis about teaching techniques (which you would have surely aced given your strengths!) That would have been far more productive for everybody involved. Maybe you could have gotten a pass/fail for a related alternative, and in doing so, you wouldn't be rewarded for not fulfilling the requirement but not penalized to such a degree, either. You do have a diagnosis, after all. And at the high school level at least, people with ADD, ADHD, blindness, dyslexia... they receive all sorts of accommodations for important test requirements.

    You are a survivor, Lydia! Whatever you decide to do, I wish you all the best.

  6. ( I meant to say Ds instead of Fs!) And I'm sorry for the long post, by the way!