At Autism Speaks we believe in the importance of role models for our loved ones on the autism spectrum. With that we asked several adults with autism who have successfully navigated the school system to share their tips for success.
Here’s what they had to say…
There is a difference between a person with autism who does not know the appropriate social skills and there is a difference having an anti-social disorder. – Kenneth Kelty
Everyone isn't going to understand what's going on through your mind and that's perfectly fine! We're special. We see things others don't and because of that, we'll occasionally have to take more time to explain why we did or said something. You're not at fault for it but it's the curse of our gift! When I first walked through the doors of my high school, I remember thinking to myself "I'm not like these people". I didn't take the time to learn as much as I could about others with autism. I learned as I made my way through school. We're no different than anyone else. We need to learn what we can about the different forms and the way it affects others so that we can be sensitive to their needs the way we would like them to be towards ours! By the end of the 4th year, those people who I thought were "weird" had become my best friends. – Phil Martin
I wasn't diagnosed with autism until age 50. Thus I went through all my school years, even my Master's not knowing why I was different and never fit in. That never discouraged me. But somehow I instinctively figured out things to enable me to learn and succeed. Some of the little things are actually big things. I discovered that if I sat up in the front row right in front of the teacher I could tune out everything else. I always recorded all lectures, even though I took notes. I can only print, not write in cursive. So I couldn't print fast enough to keep up with the teacher. Once home I'd get my notes and listen to the recording. Then I could get the full concept of the lecture. Hearing it the second time solidified it in my mind. When taking the test for the material, I was able to hear the teacher's words in my mind and that helped me answer the questions. - Anita Lesko
Make your teachers understand that they have to teach the way you learn. Also important, take an active role if you have an Individualized Education Plan to get an even better look at what your strengths and challenges are. So many experts told me I’d never go to college and I decided to prove them wrong. I got into all 15 colleges I applied too, received an undergraduate degree, received a Masters degree and in 3 years hope to graduate with my doctoral degree. Have that same motivation to never give up on what you want to do in your life whatever it may be. – Kerry Magro
As a student, when one's self-esteem is at the mercy of whether your peers accept you then it may mean you are doomed to be thrust about on waves commanded by the oceanic deity, Poseidon. We had a term back then for people who worked really hard and showed significant improvement from the year before. Those students were often called losers, and sometimes they felt compelled to act out inappropriately because the negative attention was far better than being ignored. The feeling of winning will come from focusing on the things you have control over such as earning decent grades through relentless effort and contributing to extracurricular activities where your peers have no choice other than to observe what you have to offer. For students who have challenges with executive functioning, repeating to yourself, "My job right now is...My job right now is..." will give you the sense of accomplishing an important goal regardless of how insignificant it is to everybody else. – Jesse Saperstein