If there is one thing that I’m experiencing right now that’s changing how I go about my life, it’s the change going from a child to an adult. Of course it might seem odd that I’m only commenting on this now when I’m 23 years old and well out of my teens, but this certainly isn’t something I’m coming to experience just now. It’s something that I’ve been experiencing for the past several years and will probably continue to experience until I’m all settled down with a permanent home, a family, a good permanent job, etc.
There have been several examples of this in the past. Going away from home at the end of high school to pursue university and living on my own was a change. Learning to cook meals for myself throughout the summer following my second year at Acadia was a big thing.
But in particular, I’m no longer a child with ASD (autism spectrum disorder). I’m now an adult with ASD. While you don’t have to be autistic to experience a huge transition between being a child and being an adult (who doesn’t), autism has made an impact on my experience with the transitioning process.
One of the most obvious ways it has done so is through how I socialise. As I grow older and in particular through the transitioning process, I’m finding that I have to revise my methods for how I socialise again and again. This isn’t a bad thing. This is a particularly good thing and each revision is bringing me closer and preparing me more for when I do finally settle down (which is still several years away, especially given my endeavours). When I was still a teenager, I virtually had no methods. As I’ve explained repeatedly in my posts, I didn’t have strong motivation to do anything about my social situation. It wasn’t until I was in second year at Acadia that I started addressing this issue with a counsellor. And while I was very successful with some of the strategies we discussed, some of them couldn’t be seen as long-term strategies. While in student residence at Acadia, some of the strategies I used was knocking on people’s doors and going to breakfast with them or just going and knocking in their doors to hang out or such. While there was nothing wrong with this method while I was in residence, it became completely inapplicable once I moved out of residence and into an apartment. The friends I had made while in residence I found hard to keep in contact with because we didn’t have a few simple walls or floors separating us. We were separated by streets. And as a result, I saw them far less often since I couldn’t use my “residence methods”.
A more recent example is going from being an undergraduate student to being a graduate student. Moving to waterloo has certainly been a transition in a lot of ways socially. It was a bigger adjustment than starting at Acadia. When I first started at Acadia, I wasn’t all that concerned for a social life. I took immense pleasure in my studies and put in 75-80 hours/week on school including class time! And the fact that I was already familiar with a lot of the concepts in class eased me as well. With waterloo, the exact opposite happened. Instead of being ahead, I was suddenly behind! And taking a couple of terms by focusing on undergraduate courses, I not only gave myself time to catch up with what I needed to know, but it has also given me time to get settled in into the new environment. And I’ve observed that a lot of things are different between the lives of graduate students and undergraduate students.
A lot of the social opportunities get stripped away in going into graduate studies and it isn’t all because the work in graduate studies is more intense. There are other reasons. The classes you take are limited to your department, while as an undergraduate student you could take classes in a wide variety of subjects, thus making it easier to talk with a wide range of people. I absolutely loved being able to talk to complete math phobes at Acadia. It made me feel like I wasn’t living in my own little world, but was experience more of what life had to offer. In graduate studies, your colleagues are limited to those in your subject. Likewise it’s more difficult to enjoy meals with people. Where are all my residence friends? Where’s our daily hike up to meal hall? None exist anymore. And despite that waterloo has graduate residences, they aren’t as close knit as the undergrad ones (at least from my experience at Acadia).
But while graduate studies has issued me with all these new challenges to come up with new strategies with which to feed my hunger to socialise, almost every other option would’ve forced me with the same challenges. If I had decided to discard graduate studies, the challenges for a social life wouldn’t be any easier. If I had decided to go for a paid job instead, I would still be coming home alone most nights and cooking and having supper by myself. My colleagues would still be limited to the field that I chose to work in. The social luxuries that being an undergraduate student have to offer just wouldn’t be there.
And I don’t take this to be something that should be made different. I think these changes are particularly good in fact. I’m also beginning to adjust to the adult world in a few other ways too. Realising I was running low on jeans last semester, I went out to the Bay and bought myself a couple of pairs. I have no interest in clothes shopping, but I did it anyway. I tried on a few pairs and picked the two that fitted me the best. It felt good to be able to take care of myself in this way. Likewise I’m beginning to listen to the news on ctv.ca a day here and there. Watching the news also makes me feel I’m not living just inside my head. It also gives me topics to talk about in conversation as well as inspiration for my writing.
And what am I going to do with all these experiences of aging and with autism in general? As an adult with ASD, I am about to help others with the same condition as well. I have decided to help out with an autism organisation here at waterloo by sharing my experiences for further research in the needs of adults with ASD and to share with families with autistic children the challenges of living with autism. Cliché as this may sound, I hope I can make a difference in their lives!