I was recently asked about how aspergers affected my university experience and I realised that I haven't talked about it at all. This is my attempt at correcting the oversight. It will probably take a couple of posts but hopefully I won't bore you too much with my past.
My University experience falls into two categories; full time and part time.
I started university full time at UTS Sydney doing Civil Engineering but it wasn't exactly "my"career choice. To be honest, a year or two prior I had no idea of what an engineer was - and even while doing the course, the details were pretty sketchy.
There were a couple of reasons for the choice. First of all, I was in a group of six boys at school and five of them were going on to do engineering. My father, a naval architect, was keen on engineering as a career and almost nobody thought it would be a bad idea. I say almost nobody because the school librarian thought it was the wrong choice and she knew me better than anyone.
As it happened, I got the marks I needed to get in, so I chose the path. Along the way I did a bridging course in Physics and Chemistry to pick up some subjects that I had missed - that was the first obvious warning sign.
Motivation and Organisation Issues
I'm always stressing the importance of the special interest to the life and career choices of aspies. My engineering life was a perfect demonstration of this. If an aspie isn't interested in a subject, they'll have trouble understanding it, spending any time on it and retaining information about it. That was the case with me and engineering.
I was able to do the work, aside from the maths which I found pointless and dull but a week or two after studying a particular body of work - it was gone. Totally gone.
Then there were the organisational issues. I had gone to a Catholic school which constantly reminded students about assignments, homework and study. At university, there were no such reminders, no clarifications - nothing. I missed all of my deadlines without knowing that they were there. In fact, I was so disorganized that I missed more than half of my exams. I can remember sitting on a train station and realising that my mathematics exam was half over. It wasn't a great moment.
The only thing I enjoyed about engineering was the computers. I used to visit the lab frequently but not to play games. I just loved playing with the applications - it was my special interest. In fact, I quickly began writing applications to open back doors in their system to give me more access to other programs. I didn't realize that it was a "bad thing" at the time.
I had no friends - I can't remember a single classmate's name or face and in the end I only lasted one semester (half a year).
I got a report card in the mail and it said that I failed everything - everything that is, except computing. For that I got a distinction.
I had never failed anything in my life before so the failure triggered massive bouts of depression which lasted for months. I sensibly refused to give things another go and my mother, more sensibly refused to let me lay around the house - insisting that I get a job.
My mother arranged interviews for me for various jobs and made me do things with my life. In the meantime, I enrolled in a community typing course (which I've never regretted). The typing course was all on electric typewriters but it got my hands correctly positioned for the keyboard.
More importantly though, the other people doing the course with me were "everyday" people off the streets. They weren't teachers, they weren't students at a Catholic school doing everything according to strict rules and moral codes and most importantly, they weren't all academics or engineers. I learned more about general life and people in a couple of months at the course than I had in years of school and sport.
I never managed to finish the typing course because my mother got me into a temp agency which quickly allocated me a job. In the meantime my mother was constantly searching the newspapers and coercing me to find a permanent job. I remember my mother putting me through the bank tests (a whole day of maths and English testing) and interview process and I would have gotten the job but I suddenly realized that I didn't want it. I literally awoke to the realization that I needed to follow my special interests during the interview process. I "threw" the interview by telling them that I wanted a high-level computing position but that was just so they'd let me out.
Then I started looking for jobs around my interests, of computing and reading and my strengths of sorting, categorizing and searching. When a library assistant position became available, I jumped at the chance.
Things to Take Away
The most important thing to take away from all of this is, once again;
- Aspies MUST follow their special interests. That is the only path to a successful career.
Other critical things to note:
- University life is significantly different from school life. Aspies will not automatically adapt to the changes (such as; shifting timetables, lack of teacher interest in students and lack of reminders about assignments). Parental intervention/teaching is required. (You need to go through your grown child's things and teach them how to look for deadlines).
- Organisational skills are expected by university. Parents, make sure that your aspie has a calendar and is using it. Make sure that they have other organisational tools and know how to use them.
Next time, I'll look at my second attempt at university.