Personal Accounts of Being a University Student with HFA/AS

John P. Perkins (, Asperger traits:

I am 51 years old and am in my second course of Higher Education.

My first course was teacher training 1970 - 1973. Teaching was the wrong career for me but I struggled for 19 years before the stresses finally wore me down. I got early retirement on health grounds in 1993. Shortly afterwards my marriage finally collapsed.

In 1996 my eldest son was expelled from school. Ben had always had problems, my ex-wife and I were labelled as "bad parents", and we had unsettled Ben by divorcing etc. There had been a suggestion in 1993 that Ben had Asperger's Syndrome but the school dismissed this suggestion and made no provision for him.

I managed to get him into a new school. The Special Needs person immediately recognised that Ben had Asperger's Syndrome and Professor Digby Tantam confirmed this. At the same time I was diagnosed as having traits of Asperger's Syndrome. So at the age of 47 many of the problems in relating to other people I have came into focus and made sense. I was also able to have a much better relationship with my ex-wife, she know realised that I was not just an awkward 'blighter' and understood my problems. We also had to both help Ben. Our younger son also has traits of Asperger's Syndrome.

In 1999 I decided that I wanted to go to University and get a degree. The first step that I made was to get onto an Access Course at Sheffield College. I wanted to make sure that I could still write an essay and cope with being part of a group. I had tried to get an NVQ Level 3 in IT but had to give up, as I could not cope with the stress of the work placement.

I easily passed the Access Course and obtained a place at Luton University. I wanted to do Irish History as part of a History Degree Course. I first visited Luton on the first day of the new term. Eileen took me to Luton and helped me with finding where I had to go and settled me into the Hall of Residence. I then hid for a week only coming out of my room when I really had to. Eventually I became bored so I drew up a list of things that I had to do and made sure that I did one thing per day. I set up my little routines and began to function as a person.

I was scared of the idea of exams, as I have never been any good at them. I failed all my O Levels first time I took them. I was 20 before I was allowed to leave school with 5 O Levels and 1 A Level. My teacher training had continuous assessment with some exams. In getting ready for the exams I used St John's Wort, this calmed me down. I got a friend to walk to the examination place with me. We set off in good time so when I got there I felt calm and relaxed. I got an A for Irish History and a C for British History 1780-1914.

I hate crowded places such as libraries so I buy any books that I need, in this I am lucky that I am able to afford to buy books. I don't need to use University computers as I have my own. If I ever need to use the Library then I have worked out that 8.30 am is the best time to use the library, the place is empty and I can cope with that.

Note taking in lectures is a nightmare for me, as I can't write quickly enough. This problem will shortly be addressed by a needs assessment.

I am a way from home but have quick access to home. I have not made many friends in Luton so I can get very bored and lonely. I have a Young Person's Railcard which means that I can get home when things get too much for me. I have a mobile phone that enables me to have one nominated free number so when I feel the need I can phone home without worrying about the cost.

There have been great changes in the History Department in Luton, so I have applied to transfer to another University. The problem is they wanted me to go for an interview. I am not worried about the interview I was worried about getting on the correct bus to get to the University, changing trains in London so I decided that I could not face the journey alone so withdrew my application. It was obvious that the people I was dealing with did not know what Asperger's Syndrome was so I decided that I should contact the special needs department and explain why I had withdrawn and hope that my experience could be used to make people in charge of admissions more aware of Asperger's Syndrome. The result is that I have to send a list of dates when I can be accompanied to Bath and the interview can go ahead.

People with Asperger's Syndrome know what it is like to live with Asperger's Syndrome but we must not loose sight of the fact that many people have never even heard of the condition let alone understand the problems we have.

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