Column: The experience of an autistic student

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More studying Photo credit: Roger Hughes

Before I begin this column, I want to make this clear; my experiences will almost certainly differ at least somewhat from those of other autistic students. Autism is a spectrum disorder, and as such, no two autistic people are the same.

I was diagnosed with autism when I was 6 years old. I had support systems from elementary school all the way through high school in the form of special education. When I came up here, I was aware of the Autism Mentoring Program but didn’t think I needed it during my freshman year. I was wrong.

Autism is like any other disability in that programs exist to help those affected by it. The main difference is that the level of help needed can vary wildly depending on the person. As I said, autism is a spectrum disorder. Thus, someone else on the spectrum may need significantly more or significantly less help than I do. This also means that there really is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with autism.

However, whatever method is used requires a buy-in from the individual, perhaps even more so than with some other disorders, since it’s harder for autistic people to accept change. We get rather anxious when presented with change or disruption to routines, much more so than others. This is especially true in regards to adapting to a new stage in life, which can be stressful for college students not on the autism spectrum. I feel like this, combined with worrying about looking stupid, was one of the main things that led to my freshman year being such a disaster.

When I came back to school after my mission, things changed. First, I changed my major to communication, a far departure from my ill-fated original major of biology. Secondly, I actually made use of the Autism Mentoring Program. Third, I made it a point to attend devotional every week and watch it every week once it went online. Fourth, I attended institute — which I’d started doing during my time away from school and while I was on my service mission — and transferred the credits, which took care of my religion requirement.

Now, this doesn’t mean I didn’t hit bumps along the way. I still struggled with fully online classes with no in-person or even Zoom meetings, which had been a massive struggle for me even before my mission. I passed the first one I took after returning, but that’s probably because it was the only class I was taking that semester due to it being my flex track. I just have a hard time keeping up with fully online classes when I have other classes.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time at BYU-Idaho, it’s that people want to help you. However, as stated before, you need to buy into the help and advice being given. I hope that I will continue to improve.

I’d like to close with a quote from legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

I felt like I needed to be perfect in order to do well. I felt I needed to do it on my own. Thankfully, there’s support here at BYU-I.