This guest post was written by Gianna Hitsos, a high school senior on the autism spectrum who will soon begin her college career.
The applications and interviews are finished and the music auditions are scheduled but there is so much more to my journey to college.
The worst part of this adventure is the stress that I experienced along the way. The process of transitioning from high school to college is really difficult, especially as a student with autism. I didn’t want to talk about the process with my parents, even though I had a lot of worries on my mind. I have friends, but unfortunately none that I could talk to about my issues because their journey was different. I’m stressing about living away from home, adapting to college-level classes and procedures and changing my voice coach. I tried keeping quiet in an effort to process things on my own even though deep down I knew that talking to my parents was going to make me feel a lot better. Eventually, I was unable to handle it and the situation escalated into an unnecessary problem composed of yelling and tears and Dad giving long explanations about making grown-up decisions. It was not my finest hour, but I can only say to other parents, never stop reaching out to your kids since my parents finally reached me and got me though it and I am so much calmer and happier now!
Not everything was so serious. Some things were pretty funny! Two of the colleges offered an experience where you could stay overnight in the dorms with students and the next day you could see what a day in the life of a student at that college would be like by attending classes and events. This sounded like a really exciting thing to do, so I signed up. The problem with this experience is that I had never spent a night away from home without my parents. Also, I am an only child, so I have never had to share things like bedrooms. This time my parents also began to panic. They realized that there were too many new situations that I might experience and they tried to help me anticipate all of them (i.e.: sleeping in a strange place, sharing a bathroom with other people, eating in the dining hall, staying with the crowd, try not to pace if I could help it, making sure I text them throughout the evening so they knew I was ok, etc…) The list was endless. This was starting not to sound so fun for me after all!
The night of the first college visit, as soon as I registered, I met the students that were my hosts and I waved goodbye to my parents. They stayed in a hotel near the campus that night in case I needed them, and because the next day’s events included parents. I decided that the best way to handle the autism issue was to bring it up right away. So, I explained to my hosts (and anybody else we were hanging out with) that if they saw or heard anything that I did or said that seemed different to them, it was because I had high-functioning autism. Once I came out with it, the girls I stayed with said, “that’s cool.” What a relief! I had cleared the air, and I could be myself!
Anyway, according to my mom, when my parents left me my dad went into a panic! He sat in the parking lot and didn’t want to leave. He kept asking my mom if she reminded me of this or warned me of that. Then when they got to the hotel, my mom said he stayed up all night eating Tootsie Rolls and saying, “Did she text you yet, did she text you yet, why hasn’t she texted you?” Oh, brother! But my mom said she was just as worried, and the next morning after they saw that I actually survived, they both started laughing about how goofy they were acting. I still get a lot of mileage from Dad’s whole Tootsie Rolls scenario. In the meantime, I was having a blast! Every event I attended was so interesting and fun and the classes were so awesome that I really started to feel like college was the place for me. The first college even had a beautiful candlelight music worship service! As for all the rules and situations that my parents tried for a month to prepare me for, it went all out of the window. I had so much fun with the girls I stayed with, so much so that we all overslept. I never had to worry about the half the stuff my parents thought I would! The second college overnight stay was a lot easier. Well, for me, anyway. Staying overnight was the best decision ever, because it let me see how different one set of college students were from another, and where I felt I would fit in the best!
Not all colleges require live auditions to become a music major. Some just ask you to send in your resume and a CD or DVD recording of you singing. However, three of the colleges required that you audition live, which was pretty nerve-racking the first time around. They also asked for specific requirements (i.e. a foreign language piece, and an English aria) but every school was different so I had to learn four classical pieces, one in Italian, German, French and English. That’s not easy for most people! You are also required to take a music theory assessment test. One audition experience was very different from the other. At the first one, I was pretty nervous, but I went in with a positive attitude. The audition started with a written theory test. Then came the actual audition. You were supposed to be given enough time to warm up which is usually about 10 minutes. But, when I finished my test and went to the practice rooms, they were all full and there was nowhere to warm up. I kept running back and forth down the hallway checking to see if anyone would let me use one. I ended up warming up for about 2 minutes and then had to audition. This incident really threw me off and there was definitely NO transition! Even though I felt I did a good job, I also knew it was not my best. Also, the staff seemed disinterested before I even sang and the accompanist played one of my pieces really fast even after I explained the tempo to him. I left that audition in tears. The second audition went much, MUCH better than the first one. I had a lot more time to warm up, and the staff was a lot friendlier. Right away, I performed my two songs, which I NAILED! I felt awesome! The theory test was pretty much like the last one, so there was no problem there. The professors judging the auditions were extremely friendly and seemed genuinely interested in me as a student. They discussed my musical resume, asked about my long term goals and how this college could help me achieve them. I left that audition knowing that no matter what the outcome, I had done my very best. I am still waiting to hear if I have received an invitation to audition live at the third college.
Everything was complete and all I had to do is wait. Then two weeks ago, this happened…
Yep! My first college acceptance letter with a merit scholarship. Gianna-1, Autism-0! I still want to see what the results were for my other applications before I decide so this journey is not finished. But I’m so happy to have been accepted to an outstanding college with a great autism support system and a place where I feel I can succeed. Hopefully I will be accepted into their incredible music department as well. I’ll give you the details when I make my decision. That’s in my next blog. All I know is that I am on my way to fulfill my goals, and I will be changing perceptions of autism one song at a time. Someday people will look at me as an accomplished singer who just “happens” to have autism, maybe on Broadway or at the Met! People with autism can do great things if they are given a chance, respected and included! If you want to see how I spread awareness or some of singing events follow me.