I realise it’s been almost three weeks since my last post, but I’ve been really busy in my first month of graduate school. I also had a cold last weekend and partly because of it I procrastinated on my first math assignment (though I still managed to hand it in on time). I’ve also been meeting new people and have slowly been adapting to a new location to the new environment of graduate school in general.
I would like to elaborate on a new technique I’ve been using to help with my autism. In its entirety, this technique is very general and I’m sure can and has been applied no matter what weaknesses or disabilities one has. Here it is. In order for one to cope with a weakness or disability that marks him or her in a minority group, they basically have two options for coping with something they find difficult that is actually second nature to those who lack the disability or weakness. They can either push themselves to complete the difficult tasks to their best ability or they can find another way to attaining their goal without completing the difficult task, which at first glance may seem necessary to attaining a desired goal. In other words, they try to find ways to accommodate themselves.
I’ve had such accommodations. One example is taking extra time on school and university tests and exams. Since having autism has decreased the speed with which I process information in general, extra time on tests and exams is one way that I have been accommodated. While I can’t be sure how much my marks would fall if I didn’t have this or how much I could unnaturally increase speed simply by trying to think harder, such tasks are completely unnecessary once the accommodation has been made. By allowing the accommodation, I don’t have to push myself any harder or get any more stressed out (not on average anyway).
This is an example of an accommodation I have had for over seven years. Since coming to Waterloo, however, I have managed to get myself accommodated even more. For example, when I was an undergraduate student, I had a hard time paying attention to what was going on in class, while simultaneously taking notes. This was especially true in my math classes. Since a lot was written on the board for these classes, I was so busy just writing away that it was often difficult to understand the content of what I was writing down. Mathematics can be a deeply abstract subject and as I started graduate school in the subject just down, it’s just getting more abstract and thus I have to pay very close attention to it in class. I then decided that I needed a different tactic and
decided to start photocopying classmates’ notes. Luckily, in one of the classes, the professor actually posted a booklet of the notes online, which was very helpful since I didn’t have to photocopy anything in that class. I even explained the situation to one of the administrators in the pure math department and she sought out to increase the limit of the number of images I was allowed for the department photocopier without charge to which I’m very grateful.
What is really funny is that I after I decided to go ahead with this plan, I got an autism assessment in the mail that was done four and a half years ago and that I was to present to disability services to receive test and exam accomodations. And in it the assessment, the psychologist had written down that I may benefit from having notes photocopied or having a scribe so I could concentrate on learning the material in class. Go figure.
This isn’t the only thing that I’ve been accommodated for in the last few weeks. I’ve also been accommodating myself in a couple of other small ways. For example, a lot of the food courts on campus can get overly crowded around lunch time. I like to go to one of these places to get something for lunch, but being autistic I don’t like crowds all that much. Luckily, I’ve managed find a spot or two on campus where lunch is served and doesn’t get overly crowded, which is where I usually go for lunch. They’re a lot calmer and quieter, which is what I like. A third example, which I will present, also deals with being surrounded by people. The pure math department hosted a welcome party just over a week ago at the Graduate House (a place where students and professors can hang out), and I, of course, attended. The first couple of hours were actually quite good as I talked a little bit with other students. I gradually felt, however, a feeling of being overwhelmed and I felt like I needed a break from trying to socialize, even it was just few for a few minutes. So what did I do? I left the Grad House and just wandered around outside. I felt the quietness, the calmness, and the outside fresh air touch me. I only stayed outside for a few minutes (less than ten minutes I think), but it was enough. I entered the Grad House again and the feeling of being overwhelmed had gone.
And I managed to stay with some other students for the next several hours.
It makes me feel good that I’ve applied this general technique of accommodation in ways I never really thought of before. It has also led to greater self-appreciation since I’m learning to live with more comfort in making more realistic plans to achieve my goals (which consequently helps with my perfectionism issue as well I think). The only warning about learning to live this way, however, is that you can go too far. We all need to rise and do difficult tasks sometimes (though not too difficult). It’s foolhardy to automatically play a weakness or a disability to excuse yourself from every difficult task that you encounter. What needs to happen is that a balance needs to be struck between how much energy you’re willing to put into something versus how much you should be accommodated for it. I certainly don’t automatically use my autism as my ‘trump card’.
I just like to think very carefully before I act and I think all of what I’m doing to accommodate myself more is just getting me closer to the balance, not further away from it. In my next post, I will share a new insight I’ve had into my autistic life and something, which has both radically increased my self-appreciation and why I find it so difficult to interact socially.