I’m officially diagnosed as a high functioning autistic, but that’s such an awkward diagnosis because I can also be diagnosed as having Asperger’s as well. The diagnosis process itself is just mad, but one of the good things about having a diagnosis (for a disability that isn’t physical) is that people will not believe it’s valid until you have an official diagnosis and then a lot of things change. When I say people I usually mean administrators, that kind of thing. I feel like having a diagnosis is important for two reasons. You now have the ability to find out in more detail how your brain works. My brain works a lot differently to how a neurotypical person’s works; it processes information differently. Everything is just different. And with an official diagnosis, you get allowances that have been helpful for me at school and university in ways that you don’t think about until they are given to you.
I want to talk about how this university has been great. I moved from London to Cornwall. For normal people, that’s a culture shock. For an autistic person, it’s wildly different. Have you ever heard the phrase, “London is the city that never sleeps”? They’re not wrong. At 2 am on any given day I can go out and find things to do. London never sleeps, transport is still open until 5 am in places. Cornwall has forced me to be on a schedule that actually means sleeping at night. But my environment completely changed, and in my first term that was incredibly stressful, having no places that I was familiar with, living in the same house for the last 19 years. Moving to Cornwall is a completely new environment. The good thing about coming to this university was that there is a better support network than I was expecting.
FxSpectrum is a genuinely good thing for people like myself and gave me other people to talk to who were similar to me and had a similar outlook. I felt very safe in getting advice and that was important for a first-year who was getting anxious about everything. The Accessibility Team is really good as well and at all times are doing 100% to make sure that I do well at the university, no matter how hard I make it for them. This university is brilliant in the ways it handles people with disabilities, at least with autism. I’d like to think that the people with other disabilities are also treated as well as I was, and I think so from whom I talk to. I think they really care, there’s a lot of caring at this university. Whether my problem is related to my disability or not, I can find someone, they will greet me with a smile, and they will help me sort out my issue.
The thing I’ve had to learn is how to socially interact. I have to think about how to do that, something that people without autism don’t have to think about. They don’t have to think about their body language or the way they talk or the intonation of their voice, whilst doing everything else. I don’t think there is a good thing about being autistic. It’s not in the way mass media presents it, “oh he has some social issues, but he is a super-genius at maths”. That’s very rare and not true for most autistic people. I’ve learned to deal with people differently and most people find me quite nice to talk to because people will tell me things about themselves and I’ll be genuinely interested in how other people deal with their issues. I don’t know until you tell me, I don’t know what’s going on in your head.