In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the growing number of college students on the spectrum.
When I was less than a year old, doctors told my parents that something was different about my interactions with the world. At age three, they suggested that I had Asperger’s Syndrome. Seventeen years later, my family dropped the news on me. While I’m glad my family waited until I was ready to hear the news, the revelation hit me like a freight train halfway through my second semester of college. I always knew I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. I always knew I had a hard time connecting and relating to people, especially in large groups. Watching Abed Nadir, a character on Community who displays Aspergers’ characteristics, struck a nerve for me that I didn’t want struck. Looking back, I shouldn’t have been especially surprised. I have friends who also fell on the Autism spectrum, and in the back of my mind I knew we had more in common than I wanted to admit. Today, I both accept and embrace my personality, quirks, social awkwardness, naivety, niche interests, and all. While this was not an easy journey, I found that the student body at the Claremont Colleges is incredibly accepting, though not fully informed, of struggles that go hand in hand with non-neurotypical persons.
[The] way to encourage inclusivity in the Claremont community is not to tell me that my Asperger’s is a death sentence. The way to include non-neurotypical people in the Claremont community is to engage with us: make us feel welcome. Invite us to your parties, wave to us across North Quad, and perhaps most importantly, understand that we want to be accepted and respected, just like you accept and respect all your other friends. I am proud of my Asperger’s – quirks and all. Students shouldn’t feel guilty about being neurotypical anymore than they should about being, straight, white, or male. To this end, treating peers in the mental health community with dignity and respect is the best way to foster an inclusive environment on campus.