Autism Awareness Week - Kristian's experience
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. One in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the United Kingdom.
So far, we've examined a European research project that aims to improve the job prospects of graduates with autism, found out more about autism and eating disorders, and heard first-hand experiences of living with autism from Dr James McGrath and student Aimee Shepherd.
Today we hear from student Kristian Greenwood about his experience of autism and higher education:
“I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome when I was two and a half years old. I went to a mainstream school from nursery with a support worker but still struggled in the system.
“Eventually, when I was around nine years old, my parents took me out of mainstream school and fought for a place at a specialist unit in Wakefield (St Thomas à Becket Catholic Secondary School). I coped much better there and was able to do well with my studies. I got 10 GCSEs and went on to Wakefield College Skills Xchange to do an engineering BTEC. The college had a disability hub as well, where I could go in between classes if I needed some extra guidance. I made a couple of friends there who I talked to and helped keep me going during my course.
“After two years, I decided I wanted to go to university to continue my engineering studies. I went in blind without any indication of what to expect and found I couldn't cope after a week and broke down mentally.
“I decided to switch to the computer science course instead. I really couldn't cope with the vastness and noise at the university and the support was negligible. I had barely any friends there either, so I spent a lot of time alone. The abstract way of working just wasn't suitable for me but I held on for two more years until I failed the second year and decided to change universities.
“I then moved to Leeds Beckett University to do Creative Media Technology which was much better for me. I made some connections with other peers which helped a lot with group work, and I got a placement just before my final year which was a lot of good experience. I'm currently in my final year.
“In my time at Leeds Beckett, I have continued receiving specialist support from Spectrum First where I'd speak with my study-skills co-ordinator weekly to see how I'm getting on. In the times of COVID though, I've been speaking to her remotely via Google Meetings which has helped me to keep my mental health in check and helping me to stay organised. She helps me to communicate with the Disability Support Team at Leeds Beckett as well for things such as my Reasonable Adjustment Plan or mitigation if I need extensions with work for example.
“I've also felt a lot more comfortable approaching the tutors myself as they feel easy to approach and are more friendly and approachable than the tutors at my previous university were.
“When it comes to how I want people to treat me, I just want them to have some patience and understanding and be aware of how my autism can affect me. For example, I may say something that would sound off or strange to someone when I don't mean to make it sound like that. Or similarly, I may act in a way where someone wouldn't normally and that might put some people off. I might have difficulty explaining something, especially verbally and I'd like people to be aware of that too. It can make me struggle a bit more with making friends, but I don't want people to get the wrong idea or think there's something wrong with me or treat it like some kind of disease or mental illness, really, it's just my autism making me act in a different manner or perceive things in a different manner to how people normally would. It makes me unique and not something I should be ashamed of. And I'd like people to understand that.”