Thursday, September 11, 2008

Going off to College with Asperger Syndrome

Our Asperger book club recently said farewell to one of our members, who is going off to college. People with Asperger syndrome have such a difficult time dealing with social situations and the absence of a stable structure to order their lives. So getting into college and being able to function in such an environment is a big deal and is something we actively work on. I am very proud of him and wish him success. Considering all this, it was big coincidence and a great delight to hear NPR’s All Things Considered doing a segment on people with Asperger syndrome going to college. The piece does a wonderful job going through the basic checklist of what parents and children have to deal with. This makes it useful not just for those dealing with Asperger syndrome but other disabilities as well. (Probably the most important thing to do is register yourself with your college's department of disabilities immediately. Do not wait until you actually have a problem.)

The subject of the piece is Roger Diehl. He is starting school at Wisconsin. I feel a particular kinship with Roger because, besides for Asperger syndrome, Roger also suffers from clinical depression. The piece has a really telling Asperger/depression anecdote where Roger, as a child, inquires of his parents as to what would be the most effective way to commit suicide. How long would it take to die if you held a bag over your head? If you opened the door of a speeding car and jumped out would you die? From the perspective of Asperger syndrome this makes perfect sense. Committing suicide is a line of inquiry that interests some people so it is perfectly reasonable that someone should desire to gain information about it. For a child the most obvious people to gain information from are ones parents. So it makes perfect sense for a child to go over to his parents and ask them how to commit suicide.

As an interesting side note, Roger speaks in a rather distinctive fashion. He emphasizes the ends of words and goes up and the end of words. I also speak like this and I have heard other people with Asperger syndrome or on the autism spectrum speak this way as well. I am curious if this is something particular to those on the autism spectrum.

(I would like to thank a friend of mine, who shares one of the graduate offices, here on campus, with me. He knows that I have Asperger syndrome so he was kind enough to tell me about this segment.)


Miss S. said...

Traditional colleges have been slow moving (I was going to say "slacking"...but that doesn't sound so nice) when it comes to addressing the needs of (hmmmm, how do I put this?) "fringe" students. It's pretty out of sync with the expectation that you need a college degree as a pre-requisite to get into most entry-level work across the spectrum. Obstructing higher education also obstructs the move towards independence. Only within the last 10 years, the needs of non-traditional students have been addressed. WVU has only ramped up on off-campus, distance learning and on-campus child care within the past 4-5 years. As for the office for students with disabilities; they are hidden in the basement by the service entries for the eateries in the student union. An amazing and helpful division -- surely underfunded and an afterthought to the administration, I am sure. Having a physical disability, they told me where to park and which entrances to use; they offered to provide an escort to help me carry, but I declined. If I had been there 2 months earlier, it would have been crucial for me however.

That article was interesting; especially the information given regarding parents and the loss of legal rights and access to medical information once your child turns 18. Something is out of sync here as well, because you can carry your child who is in college on your medical insurance policy (until age 25 in most cases). Yet you have no say in the decision regarding their medical care. I mean you can take the proper this family did...but there is a blatant conflict of interests there. Many factions have totally forgotten about the best interests of individuals with special needs. It's sad. :-(

Izgad said...

I agree with you about colleges being lax at providing resources. We are not an actively sought after minority group even if we bring "diversity" to schools. This makes it all the more important to be proactive. This is a problem for people with Asperger syndrome. We tend to like things to be clear cut. Give us a list of things to do and if they sound reasonable and if we feel like it we might do it. Kind of like a cat. :)