Personal Accounts of Being a University Student with HFA/AS

Holly, diagnosed with AS:

I am going to write about university, the best time of my life. I am a long-time sufferer of asperger's syndrome (a form of autism). I've known about my condition since I was 11 years old. My teachers in the elementary school made the mistake of telling the other kids in the class about my condition and I was tormented for the rest of my elementary and high school days in some form or another. University for me was a new beginning, a fresh slate, and a place to become a new person, and I am that person today.

I was a student at a small city university in the Bachelor of Music program, majoring in piano performance. I started there in September of 1996 and finished in May 2001. I was tormented for years about "having no social life because all I do is play the piano" from my classmates, but how many of them today have a Bachelor degree to their name? NOT MANY!!

I won't forget my first year there: I was very naive when it came to sex and social situations, but that improved as the year went on. I thought some fling was in love with me at the beginning of the school year, but all he wanted me for was sex. While I was hung up on him, someone had a major crush on me, and I'll call him "Dale". He was also a pianist and he admitted to me he had feelings for me for months and I never knew until he said it. We went on a few dates before he was my boyfriend, but I thought it was just as friends, but he wanted more. I fell in love with him about 2 weeks after we started getting serious, and for people with autism, it can turn into an intense obsession and scare people off. I thought about him all the time and didn't want to be without him. Unfortunately, "Dale" didn't understand my condition, even though I told him about it. He broke it off with me about 2 months later and it felt like a bomb went off in my head and my heart when he broke up with me. I obsessed about him for the rest of the year and the next one, wanting him back badly in my life. I never dated him again or barely spoke to him ever since. He was my first love and he'll always have a special place in my heart.

My asperger's condition applied to my musical studies too: in ear training classes, I aced the classes because of my perfect pitch ability. I merely have to hear a note for a split second and I can tell you what it is. It also applied to memorizing long piano pieces...could do it very quickly.

I'll tell you a little more about my other friendships in university, which was much better than elementary and high school combined. People in university tolerate differences much better, most of my friends were outcasts in high school, but had great personalities and hearts of gold. I was an outcast for 8 years, and those were dark times. I wasn't an outcast in university, just someone who kept to myself a lot and was very independent. I was well-liked by a lot of people and I wasn't uncomfortable talking about my condition if I was close with them...I actually enjoyed talking about it sometimes!

My piano professor for the first three years was a nun and I didn't tell her about my condition. We never saw eye-to-eye on a lot of things and a lot of tension developed between us. I'm sure she suspected something was wrong, but I couldn't bring myself to tell her because she would see it as an excuse for my behavior. There was a lot of physical tension in my playing because of my awkward gait and poor posture (two other asperger's traits). She was the one who recommended me into piano performance, but because I was different and socially awkward most of the time, the political factors were against me when I had to do credit recitals.

I'll never forget the first recital I did: a bunch of people came from my home town (my parents' friends mostly) to see how far I'd come (they all knew I had asperger's and wanted to see my progress). I was not aware the dean of the school was one of the judges, and I did the craziest encores in the world after playing beautiful classical music. Those crazy encores were Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls Of Fire" and "Super Mario Bros. theme". I got a lot of support from the audience, but the judges docked me for "inappropriate music" and I was the infamous "Super Mario" piano player for the rest of my university days. The dean, to this day doesn't think too much of me. No one in the university's history has ever done a stunt like that. When I discovered that I had a low mark in that recital, I bawled my head off as I take criticism very personally and I felt attacked and unwanted there. I switched piano teachers the next year as the nun slapped me during a lesson out of anger. It was the best move I ever made as he wasn't critical, and I'll tell you about him.

"John", the next piano professor, was told of my asperger's condition when I was ready to tell him. He told me it was why I was so tense as a pianist and since he had Alexander technique training, all the tension went away and I'm a much better player now. He was super supportive of me and encouraged me to be the best I could be and my other 2 recitals were very good and the marks were much better. I also had 4 boyfriends after "Dale" and one, who's name was "Tim" was an on-off relationship for two years. He had mild bipolar disorder so we supported each other. It didn't work out though, even though we fell in love.

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