I’d like to talk a little bit about my experiences in higher education (so far, I still have more to go!).
I wasn’t diagnosed with ASD until my final year of university, so it has taken a lot of reflection to recognise how it affected me throughout my degree because I had to learn what to look for.
A huge part of my ASD includes some anxiety around change or new situations and this could have stopped me from moving to a new town for university, studying new subjects, going on field trips in foreign countries and experiencing many new scary and unfamiliar things. But I managed all of these things! As you can see below, I went on multiple field trips across Europe with my university class and forced myself out of my comfort zone many times.
Although I can say that I am better at adapting to new situations now, that does not mean that I do not still get anxious, or ask a thousand questions before doing something, or plan everything as much as I can do to control what I can. This is something I will probably always do, but my experiences at university definitely helped with this.
My university degree also allowed me to discover a new passion: astrobiology. As someone who loves to focus on details (I often notice details in films, books, research articles or experiments that others may miss), the idea of going into such a wide-reaching, “big-picture” scientific field was something that I didn’t think I would excel at until I met my dissertation supervisor and realised how incredible it is to be part of the search for life on other planets and bodies.
I know that a stereotype of autistic people is that we are all super-intelligent people with things like Savant Syndrome and have detailed knowledge of one specific subject, but this isn’t true and I think this can be a damaging stereotype. Although I have quite a lot of knowledge about astrobiology, this comes from studying two different scientific subjects and learning about a huge variety of topics, and I have never focused on just one topic. One thing that I struggled with after my diagnosis was recognising that my autism has not made me into a “prodigy child” and it does not automatically make someone more intelligent than the average person. My success in academia has come from my hard work and perseverance, as well as my unique way of thinking and learning.
So as not to make this post too long, I will talk about the social aspects of university in a future post! I hope that this post offered a small insight into the way autism changed my university experiences and helped me realise my potential as a future researcher 🙂