More Than a Career?

“As a social worker, how can you make a difference?” This was the question asked during the first social work class. Off the cuff, this was what I wrote in response:

The reason I believe that I can make a difference is because ever since I was young, I’ve never been the type to stand by and do nothing. The one thing I truly hate is to be the one who is “dead weight” to a circumstance. I have a perfectly healthy body, I have a mind in my head, and a heart in my chest. So there is no reason I can’t make a difference to someone’s life.

Even now I still stand by what I said. There are only two conditions that would prove me different: the lack of know-how to make the needed difference and if I had the opportunity to make a difference happen.

The first couple of Social Work classes covered the basics of how to act like a professional. Such as how to get a job done, what values a worker must adopt, and how to behave under certain circumstances. Out of any of these key points, I thought the knowledge of how to act interact with a client was the most important to me. The proper order of things had always been a mystery to me. Including how to talk to people.

In this field, it was impossible to avoid people. If I wanted to help people, I had to play by their rules. And now I had the opportunity to learn those rules. In my future classes I had begun to learn the proper etiquette of how a social worker professionally consults with a client. This etiquette includes how to be an active listener, how to interpret non-verbal signs, how to know what kind of questions to ask, how to phrase the questions, how to structure a conversation, how to take note of every essential detail, how to be thorough with the information you receive from the client, and much more. Of course KAP, was there to help hone my skills.

Seeing that KAP is also a social service agency, they were able to provide useful advice on what to do for my interview projects and how to improve my interview performance.

Of course this form of vocal exercise took more than just one class session. My professor knew of my autism and knew that I would require some extra help and so thought that it would be wise if I had some extra training outside of class. I thought the idea of extra training was wise as well.

For the extra interviewing practice, my professor referred me to another social service agency stationed on campus. The Family Resource Program (FRP). The Family Resource Program is an agency that specializes in interviewing clients, access what the client needs, and then refer the client to additional resources that can satisfy the client’s needs. Given the nature of their work, the workers there were the ideal tutors to help me overcome my vocal limitations.

I returned to the FRP in my free time and utilized their training for the remainder of the semester. This training consisted of being engaged in several different mock-interviewing scenarios. In the practice scenarios, I would play the role of the social worker and a staff member would impersonate a client who had come to seek my advice. During these demo interviews, an observer would provide active constructive criticism if I perform inappropriately. During the course of the next couple of months, I learned how to structure my conversations and how to handle unusual client situations.

During my practice lessons, I also began to figure out my own preferred strategies and my flaws in my interviewing techniques. One of my faults as a social work practitioner is that I had a habit of projecting myself on to my client. That is to say, I would use myself as a base model and urge my imaginary client to behave as I would. Ethically, such a practice is a taboo in this field.

During these classes, I had also begun to rediscover my own voice. Now that I was better informed to what is polite, I felt a little more comfortable talking to people.

In a Social Work Practice class, the professor asked each student to host a short activity before the start of each class. The only requirement for the nature of the activity was to demonstrate a key aspect of Social Work ethics. For my activity, I requested the class to take out a blank sheet of paper, draw a big circle on the page and then draw an emblem that represented their own character and personality within the circle.

The idea behind my exercise is that before any social worker can be allowed to help a client and/or intervene in a client’s affairs, the social worker must first be in tune with their own selves. I felt that it was essential that each worker must know the limits of his or her own strengths, weaknesses, emotional limitations, moral tolerances, and essentially have their own inner political affairs in order before delving into a client’s case. I thought that the best way to demonstrate this concept would be to translate your character into a simple caricature.

Following my own advice, my exercise had me looking at myself in a different way. Up till this point, I had kept a small memo book’s worth of guidelines of what I thought my personality was like in the back of my head. But new questions came to me: How well do I really know myself and will it be enough to fill a book? Would that book be an interesting read? Would my story inspire others? I knew what kind of person I fancied myself as, but how much of it was reality and how much was fantasy? I feel that such self-reflections are necessary if one wants to grow into a better person.

Along with my social work classes for my major, I also took a variety of other classes that I felt would be an added benefit to my degree. I had already completed my requirements for my Gen Ed, so the nature of these courses could be anything useful, useless, and/or fun. So, I choose to expand my knowledge in the fields of sociology and psychology.

I took a class in Developmental Psychology. As a social worker I would not only be working with people from different nationalities, but also different ages. I thought that knowing how people cognitively mature as a species would further aid how I could help my future clients. I thought that this class would also, in turn, expand my understanding of a person’s illogical social behavior.

I also chose Psychology of Personality to learn about a person’s intellectual structure from birth to old age. I had known beforehand that a person’s personality is shaped by their past experiences, good and bad. How we translate those experiences is how we become the person we are. I took this class to see what other kinds of external factors shapes a person’s cognitive development, how to analyze the mind during different stages of maturity, and to see what kind of structural techniques shape a person’s persona.

At first I signed up for Supernatural Folklore just for fun and only for fun. However, I soon discovered that the content of folklore had more sociological applications than I would have normally thought. The realm of folklore consists of elements of varying cultural traditions, religion, superstitions, and spiritual attunements. The tests were horrible, but the content was enlightening and fascinating. I was finally getting answers to my dormant questions I had regarding what kind of elements motivate and influence different groups of people. These folklore elements have ties to sociological factors, which could influence certain social behaviors. One’s beliefs, be it religious and/or supernatural, can influence their attitudes and help shape their personality.

Similarly, while I was taking the Sociology of Gender class, I wanted to see how far gender was wired into our society and how one’s gender influences a person’s decision making processes and philosophies. I was surprised to see how much gender played an active role in human societies across the world.

Developmental expectations, professions, attire, hobbies, family traditions, deities-these are all gender ordinated in one manner or another. Thanks to this class, I can’t even watch TV without doing a gender analysis.

While taking these classes satisfies the requirements for my major, it also helped me to further expand my social repertoire and has taught me how to be more vocally active, how to be more responsive, and more importantly, how to act like a person.

Culture Shock

Super-Size Me. I’m sure many of you are familiar with Morgan Spurlock’s world famous documentary about little acts causing big changes. This film didn’t intrigue nearly as much as his other brainchild, 30 Days. 30 Days is a documentary-like reality show that takes an individual from one upbringing and inserts them into another culture, religion, or profession for the course of one month. One of my sociology classes required that I watch these shows to gain a new interest in different cultures.

I found these episodes extraordinarily fascinating because they explored new cultures and explained, in simple terms, how they were different from my familiar habitat. While watching these, I have to admit that I was a little smug. The participants who took the challenge all looked like a cat being dragged through a bathtub. They were scared that they would, somehow, be corrupted by experiencing a new culture. I didn’t understand what the problem was. No matter where I would go, I would still be me. A temporary change in address shouldn’t be enough to overhaul my persona. I felt confident that if I was placed in the same circumstance, I could handle it with no problem. Soon enough that ego would come to bite me in the butt.

Sociology was a class designed to dissect human culture in the U.S. What impressed me the most about this class is that it forced me to take a close intellectual look at human society. It allowed me to analyze the world and see it through a lens that was clearer for me. I could finally understand all of the unwritten rules of the world that have eluded me in Elementary School. I was looking for logic and order in the game called Society, but I was consulting the wrong profession. Now that I had a system to abide by, human nature became a subject of intrigue.

This was the first of many cultural events that would come with my new classes and profession.

Meanwhile, on the other side of campus, I was taking American Sign Language (ASL) to fulfill my foreign language requirement. Why take ASL instead of Spanish or French? I stutter, I clutter words, and it takes me awhile to think of the right words for spoken languages. In ASL, the class converses by using our hands and facial gestures. I thought that this form of communication might provide a better fit for me than a verbal foreign language.

While taking the class, not only did we study non-verbal communication, we also learned about the culture of the deaf community and others who practice ASL. These lessons of the deaf culture became my first real active interest in cultures and human nature. While reading and interacting in the world of silence, I became more and more interested in how the world of someone else was different from my own world. I hated taking tests over it, but was still intrigued by the content and the natural world of ASL and the deaf.

In the second half of the year, the arrogance from my sociology class finally came back to bite me. In my first Social Work class, one of our main assignments was to venture into a culture with that we were not familiar with and write down our experience. The idea behind this exercise is that all types of social workers will be expected to interact with individuals from different ethnic backgrounds and this assignment is to help the students venture outside their familiar territory.

Choosing a culture to explore was the easy part. It so happens that my family is good friends with another family that was of both Muslim and Jewish descent. So I asked them for their advice, and they advised me to visit a mosque for my project. It was a culture that I knew only from hearsay and stereotypes. I thought that it would be an ideal place for my project and one-up the guys how on take to part in the 30 Days challenge.

As the day of my first mosque experience came closer, I went from ‘next in line for the rollercoaster’ excited to ‘cavity filling at the dentist’ anxious. Finally, the day of proving came, and I was scared out of my wits. My dad came along to help me with my project, but he wasn’t any more prepared for this endeavor than I was and he was just as nervous. I finally understood why the people on 30 Days were so scared.

As we slowly approached the front doors of the mosque, countless questions shot through my head. Should we wait five more minutes? Should we have brought some kind of peace offering? Who do we talk to? What do we do? What are the people like? What was the polite thing to do? What was the impolite thing to avoid?

This series of senseless inner questioning came to a halt when we shook hands with the door’s greeter. In a flash, my worries lifted, my preconceptions blurred, and my media induced stereotyped image of the people laid dead behind me as I walked through the door. The people I had feared to meet were a kindly and helpful bunch.

The moment my dad and I stepped into the mosque, many of the local parishioners practically rolled out the red carpet for us. When they learned that we visiting and we were interested in their culture, the practitioners were overjoyed and were eager to show us around. They showed us what to do, when to do what action, and explained the mechanics of the faith. Afterwards both my dad and I felt very relieved that our worries were groundless and we were grateful for the experience.

In a way, I’d spent my “30 days” by exploring a different career path.

A Fork in My Road

For a good deal of my life I’d been announcing, practically bragging, to my family and peers that I was going to be an engineer. So, you can probably imagine how difficult it was for me to ask my parents if they could see me working in another career.

As much as I wanted a job in engineering, the higher level math requirements became too much to bear. For reasons that still elude me to this day, math just seemed pointless to me now. I used to love math for its patterns and predictability. Now the algorithms didn’t seem to touch on anything in the real-world anymore. Eventually I had to drop out of the class and forfeit the path of engineering altogether.

My academic journey was stuck at a fork in the road. I had to uncover new talents and new inspiration for a new calling for myself. When I didn’t have papers to write or tests to panic over, I pondered and reflected upon who I am, what I have done up to this point, and what do I want to do for the rest of my life. I knew that discovering my true vocation was a matter that deserved careful deliberation. However, I also knew that my time for pondering was running out.

I dreaded the worst when I informed my parents newfound struggles. When I came across difficulty with a class, I would always stay the course by working through the problem or find a way around it. This was the first time I had to abandon such an important waypoint. Oddly enough, they were very open-minded and were supportive about this change in potential professions. This was not to say that they were happy about me leaving engineering; this just meant that they would support me wherever my path would lead.

I tried to put my dilemma into the perspective of “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” (Confucius) Then came the query of what do I like to do and can I make a stable career out of it? I thought about my dilemma long and hard, but I needed inspiration to move me in the right direction.

One night while I was contemplating my career decision, my Mom suggested helpfully, “Maybe you can be like the people at KAP?” I thought about it. It was true that KAP’s career was focused around helping people, but how was that career classified? I did some digging on the matter and discovered that the organizers of KAP are classified as a social-work program, a vocation that I had been doing for fun for years with the Boy Scouts, National Honors Society, and the Beta Club.

Very soon after my discovery, I declared myself as a Social Work major at WKU and signed up for the necessary courses for the third year. Fortunately for me, I had already dispensed with most of the major’s prerequisites and Gen Ed requirements so I was able to jump right in to the major’s introductory courses unchallenged.

Though I was taking a new academic and career path, I did not regret my time in the engineering courses that I had taken in High School. I may not be putting my education from them to everyday use for my new profession, but I still value my time in the engineering magnet. The program gave me motivation to get out of bed and seize the day. It gave me hope that every school day I was going to wake up and learn something that would make a difference in somebody’s life. This was also a time that I could get an idea on what parts of engineering I was good at. I had new skills that could aid me in a domestic setting-such as the time when I repaired my dying TV with the skills I learned from my electronics course. I could also say that my high school years were anything but ordinary. After all, how many can say they made a human-sized canoe out of cardboard and duct tape?

The Monsters Still Chase Me

Ever since my time in Middle School, I saw that all teachers as heroes and advocates for students that were experiencing trouble. They answered my many questions, tolerated my ignorance and protected me from bullies. However, I soon found out that not all professors were as friendly and helpful toward their pupils.

As I said before, I had bullies in my younger years of life, but I wasn’t targeted for my autism specifically. My youthful tormentors usually preyed on me because I was seen as a loner with lousy social skills. As such, I was a good source for a cheap laugh. I wasn’t afraid of them; they were only immature jerks.

My only true villain didn’t appear until in my second year of college. The fully-grown bully was not a fellow classmate on campus or an old peer from my early years. The situation would probably have been far more favorable if he had been. My bully at this point in my life, the person who harassed me for my autism, was a College professor.

This whole affair began in my sophomore year of college when I was taking a Standard English class for my General Education requirements. On my first day in the class, I went up to the teacher, introduced myself, handed him my disability papers, and took an advantageous seat in the front row. In all fairness, upon my first meeting with my teacher, he seemed like a nice guy. My tasks in the class were simple: Read the many short stories in the assigned book, take a short quizzes based on the readings, write three papers for the semester, and study for three tests plus the final exam.

For the next few months I did my best to earn a decent grade on my appointed assignments. However, nothing I did seemed to please the teacher. During my Study Table hours at KAP, I would read the scheduled stories, memorize the key notations, and have KAP help me prepare for the quiz the following day. However, on the quizzes, he wouldn’t ask for the main ideas, Meta messages, foreshadowing, or the moral of the story. No. Instead he would ask for the details of the story that were often missed due to their unimportance to the tale; tidbits that would pass off as decoration to fluff up the story. If the short story had a street brawl, he would ask for the eye color of the mute onlookers. If the story were about a teen girl confronting a dangerous youth, he would ask about what kind of wallpaper she had in the kitchen. If the tale was about a lottery that nobody wanted to win, he would ask what kind of weather the villagers were having. And so I would get nothing but F’s on my quizzes. My grades for the writing assignments for the class weren’t much better.

In spite of my best effort, despite all my work and dedication, the English teacher would pass back my papers with an F stamped on it and not have a single comment to explain why. Three months into the class, and I was at my wits’ end. If it will help me improve, I will accept any form of constructive criticism, but all I was getting back were failed assignments, failed tests, and a improving migraine. I couldn’t understand why I was having such a hard time.

Difficulty understanding English assignments was not a new concept for me. Weather it was writing my own story or interpreting someone else’s, I would always need help. So I thought there were more unwritten rules I wasn’t picking up on. I approached the teacher many times to figure out what was going on. But he would only provide limited feedback, a smile, and say, “Hang in there.” His response gave me a glimmer of hope, but no answers.

It wasn’t until my second test I figured out what was REALLY going on. Before the second test took place, I had spent many hours each day reviewing the class’s test material and, after the test, I felt really confident in the results. But alas, there was nothing but an F waiting for me upon grading day. In dismay, I approached the teacher one last time to ask one last question, WHY? “What was I doing wrong?” I asked him.

I was expecting some form of constructive criticism, but all he said was “You didn’t answer the questions the right way.” …. WHAT!?

I snapped. “What do you mean ‘the right way’?!” I asked in outrage.

He quickly silenced me and said, “You should be grateful for the grades I have given you! I will report your poor behavior to KAP. Do you understand?!”

At this point, I had plenty to say in response with some very choice words and colorful vocabulary to this man, but before then, I had to keep myself from crying.

Bigots, racists, prejudice. I have known of their existence since I did a report on the Ku Klux Klan back in Middle School. Ever since I have grown to despise such idealism and the creatures that worship it. I despise what they have done in the past. And I despise them still what they do now. I have seen such bigots in action in the form of the annoying protestors that insists that Gods hates homosexuals.

I have come to despise the idea of judging someone for not WHO they are but WHAT they are. I can always change WHO I am through the choices I make each and every day. I cannot, however, change WHAT I am because I did not choose to be born as a human, where I was raised, my parents, or to have Autism.

Although I was aware of bigotry in all of its elements, this was the first time I felt the cold jagged blade of prejudice stabbing my heart. How naive of me to believe the threat of bullying would just end with high school. Bullying can carry into adulthood too. Never before had I felt so helpless. I knew that I was different from everyone else. But I had assumed that being different were the only extent of the damage. Things that are deviant was not supposed to be a sin. For the first time in my life, I felt absolutely pathetic.

I spent the rest of the day in doldrums, wandering from class to class, half aware of my surroundings. I tried to focus on my studies but I just too depressed to care. Helpfully, the kind organizers at KAP were as devastated and outraged at this development as I was and tried their hardest to rectify the situation in my favor. However, whenever KAP tried to contact the teacher, he would have a “convenient” excuse at the last minute to miss the meeting. When they finally cornered the rat, it was already too late for me and many others in my class. It was the first time in my life I had an F on my report card.

The semester finally ended with lackluster results. I may have walked out a little wiser, but I was mostly mad. I was infuriated at the professor for being a fat egotistic demon disguised as a teacher and mad at myself for not seeing the signs earlier that this instructor had no intention of giving me a chance to succeed.

A semester later after that horrible experience, I learned that another student at KAP was taking the same English professor I had and was having an equally difficult time with him.

It is a learned habit of mine to retain all of my notes and assignment papers of past classes just in case I might need them for future reference.

Feeling sympathy for the student, I tried to help him out by rendering all of my class notes, assignments, and quizzes that I kept from that class. I hoped that the notes would give him a fighting chance and to succeed where I have failed. He was grateful of course and used my notes. Nonetheless, my hopes were in vain. The professor still wouldn’t pass him despite his best efforts, and I felt nothing but rage.

I was betrayed! Teachers are meant to guide and protect their students and every professor before this bully did just that. How dare he deny me the one thing I ask, one chance to prove myself.

My heart was filled anger and anguish. After this episode, I thirsted for revenge. While I paced, I had countless dark fantasies of payback, each one blacker than the last. But I could not bring myself to act on any of them. Not because “revenge is wrong,” “hatred leads to more hatred,” “violence solves nothing,” “two wrongs don’t make a right,” or other similar clichés. As needlessly cruel as my pretend proctor was, I refused to become his successor and become a monster like him.

I don’t how or when, but I do know that such villainy rarely goes unchallenged. Be it of God’s wrath or karma’s cycle, he will be punished for his transgressions. Such is the way of all with closed minds, bigoted attitudes, and inflated egotists –they will get their just rewards in the end.

So, life moves on. Although I was still bitter about what happened to me in that class and how I was treated; I had to realize that life had hills and potholes and I had to learn to get over them or endure them. I learned to both choose my classes and my professors more carefully. I have also learned that it does no good to worry about the “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.” All it is extra baggage and I wouldn’t become any stronger nor wiser by lugging it around. The only thing I could do was pick myself up, dust myself down, and move on.

College Assistance

When I entered WKU, I still had aspirations to become an engineer, but I had to get most of my tedious basic level courses out of the way before I could fully enjoy my major’s important aspects. As such, I declared myself as Undecided to preemptively knock out my college General Education (Gen Ed) requirements-the basic level required courses that every WKU student needs to take before graduating (English, Math, History, Foreign Language). Lucky for me, I was able to get a tremendous amount of help from a local organization that is stationed on campus.

The organization is called the Kelly Autism Program (KAP). KAP specializes in assisting individuals with autism and works with autistic clients that range anywhere from elementary to college level students. When I joined KAP in my freshman year, I was enrolled in KAP’s Study Tables program. Simply put, the Study Tables program is a service that provides active help throughout the client’s college experience. This help includes homework assistance, in-class accommodation authorization (Office for Student Disability Services), guidance on how to conduct oneself in the real world, and building a healthy social repertoire. It was thanks to these people that I was able to survive and thrive in College from start to finish.

One does not normally find such help as you find at KAP. They provide the resources and Help Piece that is normally missing at other autism-help facilities. Not only do the students get the tools they need, they are also taught how to use them step by step. For example, after the KAP students were released to go home, a KAP worker found a student going the wrong way and heading further and further from campus. The worker flagged down the student and took him back to KAP where she walked back and forth with the student to make sure that he could find his way to and from his dorm the next time on his own. This is the Help Piece that KAP provides, and this is exactly what the autistic community needs to succeed.

When my mom and I visited KAP for the first time, the manager of the facility asked my mom some questions about me and my abilities. One question that stood out to me was when the manager asked my mom very sternly, “Can he do this work?”

After a moment of thought, my mom replied to the manager, “I don’t know, but we can’t not try. Because every goal he set out for he found a way to make it happen, and we cannot deprive him the right to try.”

Oddly enough, I was not offended by the manger’s question. I have achieved much during my time in High School, however I also had to agree with her skepticism in my ability to survive in College. The manager knew very well that some students with disabilities have been babied by their parents/teachers and have taken an easy road through their life without learning the necessary skills to live on their own.

Such as the case with my neighbor in the freshman dorm. He was a fellow autistic student who enrolled into WKU at the same time as I. However, after we both moved into our new dorms, I didn’t see him much outside the dorm or at KAP. I later learned that he dropped out after the first few weeks because he hadn’t learned what he needed to from home. College has a lot more social variables than high school. These included academic expectations, attitudes of the professors, living independently, communicating and cooperating with peers, and compensating for unexpected turn of events.

While KAP did help me perform in my daily assignments outside of class, I still needed some additional help for my daily tasks during class. This is where the Office for Student Disability Services comes in. This office offers students with disabilities in-class accommodations, such as extended time, books of tape, or even a note-taker (a fellow student would get paid by the office to share their notes with the recipient).

If it weren’t for KAP I would have not known these accommodations existed. KAP took the time to get to know me, assess what services would benefit me, and how to use them to their fullest extent.

Although I had these services available to me, this did not mean that I was lazy. From the office, I did ask to take extra time on tests and hire a note-taker. However, I did not allow my accommodations to do all of the work for me. I had to work and, at times, fight to get all of my assignments competed and ready for the assigned due date. My ultimate goal here was that I tried to live my college life with as few complications as possible.

As time went by, I began to see myself as a burden to my parents. Particularly my Mom. Every time I’ve had an issue, I needed to come back to her for a solution. If I needed to study for a spelling test, my mom quizzed me. If I needed to know what happened in 1887, mom would make a study guide to make it easier to recall. If I had peers who were harassing me, mom would call a school meeting and take care of them.

For each event that I couldn’t support myself, I felt more pathetic because I couldn’t handle it myself. I appreciate my mother’s unwavering support and I appreciate the help I get from KAP. But I continually felt that I was at the mercy of someone else and I hated it. I hated myself that was over 18 and still needed had to burden another for my shortcomings.

“Even Jesus had apostles” my mom would say. “Even Jesus had apostles,” another way of saying that everyone helps in his or her life in one point or another. These were words that I didn’t take to heart until much later. In the meantime, I tried my hardest to be self-reliant. Which meant to have all of my tasks of the day under my thumb. I knew that I was only human and that I had weakness here and there, but no one else in the room seemed to have difficulties like mine.

Looking back on it now, it was probably during High School graduation that I finally understood something important. When the graduate stood up to receive their diploma and when the graduates’ families would cheer for them upon recognition, I understood that although that each student may have attended class as an individual, they were not alone. Each one of them had a team that supported them and helped and guided them through their journey. I was still a little hesitant to ask for help at first. However, when I saw that college professors encouraged students to come seek help, I had a quick change of heart and a new paradigm on the subject.

Only in video games can one person plow through overwhelming odds and change the world. The only reason why a fictional character can charge through armies armed with only a sword and live is because they are supposed too. For the sake of plot the heroes of fiction are scripted to deliver a happy ending. People of the real world aren’t so invincible. Our lives are not scripted and fate does not favor dunderheads that think can button mash through their problems. People need other people to survive our independent trails.

Continent College

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!

I wake up one sunny day in August 2007. I turn off my alarm and look around to find myself alone in my room. I took a deep breath in search of the familiar smell of fresh coffee and toasted bagels only to find the scent of still air. I listen for the familiar sounds of my parents and sisters as they stir out of bed only to find silence. It was then it dawned on me that I was alone and on my own. It was my first day in College.

When I learned that I was going to a university, I admit, I had some reservations. When I initially thought what my new college life was going to consist of, I thought that the atmosphere of the college campus was going to be similar to my previous high school life along with frat parties, inhuman hazing initiations, and dead-boring professors over 60. My biggest concern I had was that I was going to be living on my own in the dorms. The longest I have ever been apart from my parents were about a week for Boy Scout summer camp.

I admit, I was lonely, overwhelmed, and confused at first. But after I settled in, I quickly found out that college life was a whole new culture with new people and new rules. Not only that, I found out more about myself and how to be self-reliant when I was living alone.

When I stepped onto Western Kentucky University’s (WKU) campus for the first time, one of my first thoughts was that this place was big. Really big. While High School could be described as island. College could be its own continent. This world was not contained into one boring looking building and a bus ride like at High School. The entire school was a whole community with lots of places to traverse and explore.

I found it very refreshing to see the atmosphere around me change from a noisy habitat of wasted effort to a den of potential scholars. When I looked around on campus and see the people moving back forth on the sidewalk, I could see it in their eyes that there was something occupying their minds. A project? A test? A new job? Laundry? Overseas internship? Lunch? Whatever the case, they knew that they had a task to complete and they would get to work to get it done without delay. There were still some dunderheads here and there, but they quickly learned the hard way that life is not their playground anymore.

One such example took place during my freshman year when I took an Art Appreciation class. The class was just getting results back from a test we had taken the week before. That was when one of the students leisurely approached the professor and confessed that he had missed the test and requested to take a makeup. To say that the professor was not keen on the idea was an understatement. The student could have informed the professor weeks beforehand and they could have arranged something, but he didn’t. Now that everyone in the class has gotten their test back, the student could pull another student aside and ask to look at the graded test and thus have an unfair advantage. The professor was quick to realize this and quicker to eject the laid-back student from the class. The student tried to play it cool and nonchalant, but the infuriated teacher made short work of his insolence and ejected him from class with a very loud and angry “GET OUT!!” Nobody could blame her.

I couldn’t help but nurse a secret delight in seeing the obnoxious, immature twits being filtered from the hard workers. I took pride in knowing that I had surpassed the breeding grounds of immature tormentors and had moved to a higher level in life. Although the college atmosphere had been mostly cleared of juvenile beings, there would always be some that would prey on the weaknesses of others.

Upon my freshman year, I also noticed a change in tone from my teachers in high school and my professors in college. Whenever I would interact with the professors, I’d notice a transition from “How can I help you today?” to an unsaid ‘Do you really care about my class?’ Unlike the high school teachers, I had to earn any help from my professors by showing that I cared about passing their class and meeting their challenges. In short, if I showed that gave a damn about my class, the professors gave a damn about me.

WKU also became the ultimate proving ground for overcoming my autism. Not only did I have to overcome my deficiencies when doing my class assignments and performing my duties as a college student, I had to be able to provide for myself independently.

From this day forward, I had to be responsible for my classes! Laundry! Dishes! Hygiene! Responsible for my meals! PAYING for groceries! And then be at least two steps ahead of the game for the next day. It felt like someone had loosened a pair of training wheels on my life. This was a brand new experience to be so responsible for my life when my parents weren’t around to clean up after me.

Finding balance to do it all was always a tricky job. This was because, before college, my sisters and I would divide up our household chores among us. When I became a college resident, it was now my responsibility to do all of the chores whether I liked them or not. However, this did not mean that I had to complete five years of college on my own. When you live on your own, you can’t be a one-man show. You are going to need help in one aspect of college or another. Like it is said in another one of my favorite mom-isms, “Even Jesus had apostles.” Everyone needs help from time to time.