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?