For as long as I could remember, I knew that I was different from my peers. At the time, I only understood this as the fact I preferred watching cartoons and playing with LEGO, as opposed to watching military movies (a significant number of kids from my primary school lived on the nearby army estate) and playing football. Later, I realised it was because I was on the Autistic Spectrum.
Essentially, this meant I was extremely passionate about the things I was interested in and had no room for anything else within my mind (I mean, unless it was a necessity for passing GCSE English Literature and Geography), being extremely frustrated and angry when changes to routine or tasks were made in short notice, and at times I acted inappropriately during social situations, such as not making eye contact, or, when I was younger, bear-hugging people when they didn’t want to be hugged. That last characteristic often led to being called a “freak” by some of my peers, and, if I’m being honest, me feeling that I was somehow a monster. Sometimes, I still think that I am a monster.
The only solace I found, by the time I was in secondary school, was that I was good at Science and Maths (which honestly could have been a result of my condition), while in subjects in which I found difficult, I was given a teaching assistant to help me. I also later discovered a passion for History, which my GCSE History teacher helped foster. In other essay subjects I seldom spoke, and I often struggled to try to turn my thoughts into words without the help of a teaching assistant. By the time I finished my GCSEs, this was not the case when it came to History. One of my biggest regrets was that I didn’t pursue this passion further in my A-levels, as I had bought into the stereotype that people on the Autistic Spectrum weren’t good at essay subjects, and I think I would have enjoyed it in hindsight.
I’m now in my final year of my Maths degree at QMUL. I’ve often been told by my mum that I’ve beaten her expectations of me by coming this far. That still does not make me immune to experiencing hardship. I still get frustrated when things are changed in short notice, I still struggle to make eye contact, and now it seems that even topics within Maths are not immune to being shoved by the wayside within my own head if they’re proven to be uninteresting or difficult.
However, much like during secondary school, I’m not alone. The School of Mathematics and the Disability and Dyslexia service is there to help try to get me back on track with my learning, whether this is through re-writing lecture notes for modules I don’t understand, or by giving me other reasonable adjustments. Also, due to the benefit of being able to commute from home, I still have the support of my parents for when the path ahead seems dark; they help to pull me back into the light.
My final message to my fellow students who are on the Autistic Spectrum, or have any other disabilities, whether temporary or permanent, or visible or not, is this: the burden isn’t yours to bear alone. There will always be people there to help you: your teachers, your family, your academic department, your friends, etc. You only need to ask.