This post is in the Students category

Dear Reader

I become aware that one of my current students shows signs of “heightened traits”.  No, let me put that another way – this guy is an Aspie if ever I saw one.  Allan is clearly very intelligent and well read, technically proficient, at home in front of a computer, happier writing than speaking, and has a vast array of quotations from literature and text books at his disposal.  He has a slightly odd walk and posture, an “individual” dress sense that reminded me of my own college days (apricot jeans and green jungle boots – it was the 80s), a penetrating gaze and an occasional hesitation when spoken to.   When an opportunity to present some of my work in progress research at a lunch-time forum in the faculty, I made sure to invite the cohort and privately mentioned to him that he might find the subject matter interesting.  My presentation was about methodology, autoethnography and validity in particular, but there was significant disclosure of the ways that Asperger Syndrome’s general manifestations and how it affected me personally.  But Allan wasn’t there, and I left the forum somewhat disappointed.  Fortunately, a friend of his was present, and went straight to him, saying “Hey, Colin was talking about stuff that sounds exactly like you, you should go talk to him.”  So I found myself discussing my own condition over coffee with this young man. I was very aware of my ethical position as a teacher, and I didn’t want to prejudice my chances of working with him as a researcher, so  I was very careful not to tell him I thought that he might be on the spectrum despite my strong desire to do so.  As the conversation went on he began to compare my descriptions of myself and my ways of seeing the world to an autistic neighbour, then to his father, and then to himself.  He asked me if I thought he had autistic traits.  I told him him everyone has some autistic traits and recommended some books I knew were in the library (because I had ordered them myself).  A week or so later Allan came to me and said that he had discussed the matter with his mother, who had indicated no surprise at all.  As a teacher she had some contact with ASD and had long considered that both her husband and son were at least eccentric.  He asked me for a contact at a clinic, and before long came to me with a wry smile and announced “me too!” A sign for me came when I overheard two other students talking about him, how he was “a nice guy, very polite and really smart, but the eye contact was just way too intense”.

Since that time Allan has been on quite a journey.  We meet regularly and he says that the knowledge of his Asperger’s and regular contact with specialist psychology has been a great help to him, allowing him to pre-empt some situations and not be so hard on himself when he makes mistakes.  He is much more confident and appears proud of his eccentricities.  His music has developed too, and I can see the traits in it, and in his methods.  There is a certain obtuse approach to subject matter, an attitude of “well, I’m doing it my way, because it means something to me”, and he has a fierce intellect to back it up.  He has his share of issues in social situations, complaining to me about the veiled and multiple motives of his peers – he is happy to place himself “out of circulation” and simply choose not to deal with the fickle and the fake at this point in his life.

Allan is not the only person who has become aware of traits through my own.  My present faculty members have all encountered Aspie traits in their cohorts and believe themselves better equipped to deal with them.  I keep some relevant books on my office shelf.  There have been a few more students who have recognised themselves in my descriptions of myself, either declaring their existing diagnosis to me that had previously been “kept quiet” or seeking clarification of years-old diagnoses of ADHD, bipolar or other disorders.  One individual sacked the psychiatrist he had been seeing for 10 years and sought advice through a specialist autism clinic.  Under their supervision, he is now off the psychotropic drugs and functioning relatively normally in an environment where Asperger’s is recognised and not seen as a barrier to success.

Leave a Reply