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    Posted October 2, 2013 by
    Des Moines, Iowa
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    First Person: Your essays

    Coming to Terms with my Autism

    I am 23 years old, and for the last fifteen years of my life I have lived with a label. At the age of eight I was diagnosed as having Asperger's Syndrome. At the time it was just a word, and I didn't really understand what it meant. I went through life knowing that I was on the Autism spectrum, but not really caring, because I liked who I was. I spent some time researching Asperger's, so I could tell you how I was generally different from other people, but I didn’t care enough to figure out how my disorder affected me personally. I went to college at Drake University where I declare myself a Special Education major in the spring semester, and still I didn’t know what it really meant to be Autistic. I denied that it was a big part of me, because I wanted to feel normal. Unfortunately, the transition to college was really different from life beforehand, and I wasn’t ready to handle it. I ended up dropping out of school after my freshman year because I didn’t have any idea of what I was doing. I spent the next year and a half still hanging out with my friends I had made at Drake, and then started back at school. Due to bad grades my first year I was basically starting over as a freshman, but this time I was better prepared for what college life meant, and I thrived. Over the last three years I have made a lot of friends, and have been actively participating in classes.
    My life at Drake University was great. But then something happened. I found out that I was going to lose my scholarship because I had used up my eight semester eligibility. I hadn’t made a major life transition since before I had come to college the first time, and I started freaking out. I knew that I had to work fast to figure out how I was going to finish my education, and I decided to transfer to Iowa State University, which is about half an hour away, and would provide me the opportunity to commute to school. Then I went to Iowa State and found out that I would lose most of my credits, and it would be unreasonable to commute to school there. I knew that this would be a huge change, and I didn’t think I could handle it. I had spent the first week after finding out I couldn’t stay at Drake crying, and that was with the mindset that I would stay in Des Moines and only be switching schools. The idea of transitioning to another town was terrifying, and between that and knowing that I would lose so many credits I decided that I couldn’t do it. That kind of change just wasn’t possible. Fortunately, I have a great church family, and there’s an awesome couple who is providing me with some money to stay at Drake for a while longer.
    Despite my narrow escape into a transitional nightmare, I was forced to actually look at my reaction to leaving, and to finally understand how my Asperger’s affects my relationships. It’s been a long and hard process over the last several months, and I’ve shed a lot more tears than anyone in my life knows. This is a large part of my life that I’ve neglected for a long time, because I had the perception that acknowledging it meant making it my identity. Those around me know about my diagnosis, but they don’t see me as someone with a disability, the see me as a friend. This is primarily because I’ve learned to socialize in the environment I’m in, and I have a great support system between my close friends and pastors, most of whom are the fathers of my close friends. I have learned that within my support system I can thrive and seem completely normal, but if I am taken out of that environment I don’t feel good. I spent some time with a group from my sister church on a visit to Iowa State this summer, and even though I knew a few of those people I was still freaking out inside. I knew that there was no way I could be a part of a different social environment and feel the same way I do. It’s possible that after a certain amount of time I would have gotten used to the way things were at Iowa State, but I know the difference between being uncomfortable in a new place and having a panic attack, and I was much closer to having a panic attack.
    Knowing how much change freaks me out is helpful because it gives me an accurate idea of my limitations. I know that I will probably not be able to ever pack up and move somewhere else, but I also know that while I am at home in Des Moines I will have a support system who cares greatly for me. When I was little even little changes like stepping into the shower were enough to freak me out, and I’ve grown to be able to shower every day, so I guess I should at least be thankful for the little areas of growth. Maybe someday I will be able to face change in my life without freaking out, but even if I can’t, Des Moines isn’t a bad place to live, and my friends aren’t bad people to be around. I am thankful for the opportunity I have had to confront this large part of who I am, and I think that all of the tears and struggles have been worth it in the end, because being able to better understand myself, even if it’s better knowing my limitations, will help me to make informed choices as I go through life. It’s definitely better than accepting a job far away after graduating, only to find out that I can’t survive apart from my support system.
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