Personal Accounts of Being a University Student with HFA/AS

Ellis (

My story

Here I am at the end of my first year doing a BSc. I'll briefly mention my time at school before going into my university experiences. I performed well academically in school, but always rusty when it came to socialising. I always had one superficial friend and we had a lot of things in common. Basically, my social life at school was bad, but it wasn't terrible. I always knew that there was something underlying, but it was a mystery to me until I was about thirteen when I found that there was a name for the way I thought - Asperger's. I had been statemented when I was around four years old - although there was no 'label' for my thinking process at that time. It was only later when asperger's as a term became more widespread, that we realised that I fitted into this spectrum of high functioning autism.

I felt that half of me wanted to socialise, but that the other half wanted to withdraw and continue along a linear learning path, without the intervention of people. This was reinforced when I found that a girl in the year below had a slight crush on me. I didn't know how to react - I think partly because I liked her also - and so I ignored her I ignored the signs of interest she would occasionally show towards me. However, I didn't realise that I had trouble reading people's expressions and body language then. However I did build up a form of social web during my A levels, albeit a weak one. I would go home after school and sit and do homework or basically stay at home. I went horseriding for four years during my schooling, but after I outgrew the horses, I didn't have any other extra curricular activities. After leaving the town I grew up in for University in the summer of last year, I lost contact with schoolfriends and decided to begin at Uni on a clean slate, which became a messy, murky slate by the following Christmas.

For the first year, I did not apply to the halls of residence, because I thought that living at home and saving money would be a better option. During the summer, I did not apply for a grant or any kind of extra support from the university primarily because I feared being judged by the lecturers teaching the course, and that they would make sure my employers would know of my 'condition' later in life. Going back to my first day, I remember trying to act like someone who I wasn't, a mask covering the real me. I met two people at the end of this first day and they asked me for my number. I remember standing in a park with them while they fiddled with their mobile phones, tapping in my number. I felt like I had overcome my social problems. We would meet in Waterstones every morning for a coffee, and this became a routine for me (for two weeks at least).

It was when my mask finally crumbled away that I could sense people in my year judging me. Being in a competitive environment I could sense that people thought that I was a bit 'weird'. As a result, I felt as if people were against me (I'd only met a quarter of the year), and assumed that they were all out to get me. My mobile phone was never used and gathered dust behind my computer. Consequently, I withdrew. I decided to work at home and would only go to college to attend seminars and lectures. These soon finished and I ended up studying at home for almost four days every week, completely missing out on dialogue and debate in my year. I was even worse off than I was in school, since I had no single friend or even aquiantance. This I though would change during a field trip to Istanbul in January. On the way from the airport to the hotel in the old quarter, I was the only one to have a double seat on the coach. We got to this hotel and people shirked away when I asked them if they would share a room with me. In the end, I was put in a room with some other people from another part of the course, and I found that I could get on with them in at least a basic way. That night we walked around Istanbul's old quarter and saw the sights. I got to know one of these people better, and at the end of the trip I felt as if my social situation was improving.

Not so. Because the boy I met was studied in a separate building, we couldn't meet up everyday, and he was funny about giving me his phone number. I began to feel lonely, and felt very self conscious when I did go into college to wait for tutorials. The quality of my work, though was of a high standard, and the debate that I had over my work with peers on the rare day that I did go in was only about how 'good' it was in appearance. Because I missed out on debates and the 'bouncing' of ideas, so too did my work which became only a hollow shell, albeit a carefully made hollow shell. Even though I did literally work all day, from nine to about eleven at night, my marks were low due to the severe social issue. I remember walking through a park on the way home one day and seeing a couple on a bench. I wished to myself that I could be this way - what I saw as 'normal. Soon after that, my self confidence took a huge hit. I soon lost my hunger for intellectual reading and study, lost enthusiasm and found myself in a tailspin, a very slow tailspin. At the end, on my last first year tutorial, my tutor asked me what I had gotten out of the year, I said I didn't know. I even debated leaving the course altogether and studying something else. I didn't know what to do for next year.

At the moment - I have realised that I cannot function easily without support at the University. I am trying to get help for my second year and hope that some mentoring might help my situation. I think if I face up to the real issues about the way I deal with social situations, then I may be able to move forward. I like the way I think for the most part, and the fact that I have asperger's doesn't bother me - I am happy that I can see many things that so called 'normal' people can't see. If I can manage to navigate and develop more strategies for coping with the social aspects of the course I am doing - then it'll only help me to move into work, and function in a career. I won't be able to forget about having asperger's - ever. It's me - and that's it.

If anyone wants to discuss their own experiences, then please, email me at .

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