A First-Hand Account from a Person with Autism

April is Autism Awareness Month, a period of time we can support and create awareness for the autism community.

According to Autism Canada, "Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or autism, is a neuro-developmental disorder that impacts brain development causing most individuals to experience communication problems, difficulty with social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour."

In honour of Autism Awareness Month, I decided to share the story of a dear friend of mine and fellow Carleton student, Ling, who is also a high functioning individual on the Autism Spectrum. Ling is a familiar face to many as he spends most of his time on campus going to classes, participating in various extracurriculars and hanging out with all of his friends.

Ling was born in China and moved to Ottawa when he was 4-years-old. In elementary school, Ling said he really enjoyed French, math and science. He said he would often have an Educational Assistant (EA) and attend Special Education classes to help with his studies.

He added he had a hard time getting along with other kids at school, typically because they were not accepting of his condition. He soon found an outlet by playing computer games and cycling.

When Ling went to middle school, he said it was a nice change compared to his early childhood years. He was well-liked by his peers, and many students thought he had a great sense of humour. Ling also continued to have EA’s support him in his classes.

He explained although math was his strong suit, he often had difficulties with reading comprehension, or understand the content of the question. He also struggled with people misunderstanding him, or accidentally blurting out words that he hadn't meant to say, which would get him into trouble sometimes.

In high school, Ling had to switch schools because the ASD Unit was full. Although, he missed his peers, this unit taught him some very valuable skills, such as responsibility.

However, Ling noted that the most important skill was understanding social cues, tones, and body language, which he said was the most challenging part of his condition. This made it much easier for Ling to socialize, improving his confidence in the process.

Throughout high school, Ling found himself in various friend groups because of his increased social skills. Ling graduated in 2010, and said he still speaks to some of his high school friends to this day.

In September of 2010, Ling began his first degree in mathematics at Carleton University. Like many first year students, he said that the initial transition was difficult. He focused more on his academics, sacrificing his social life.

But, soon after he found a balance between his academics and social life by getting involved within the Carleton community. Ling was able to get academic support through the Paul Menton Centre, the Student Success Centre and frequent visits to his professors' and TAs' office hours. This allowed him to take on volunteer opportunities on campus such as Fall Orientation, Shinerama, CUSA, Red Zone (also known as the Bird Gang) and participate in activities hosted by the math department.

Ling successfully completed his degree in 2017 and decided to continue his academic career with a second degree in computer science. Although he has plenty of university experience, this new journey has not come without its challenges. Ling said he continues to struggle with taking tests and admit that some accommodations such as extra time, are not truly beneficial. However, he continues to persevere and demonstrate a work ethic that many could learn from.

This glimpse of Ling’s academic career is just scraping the surface of the series of challenges that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder must overcome. Ling has become a role model to many of his friends by overcoming the same challenges every student faces, on top of dealing with Autism.  

Ling also said when approaching someone with Autism, people need to be patient and they should try especially to understand how the message they are trying to share could be interpreted by the individual they are trying to share it with. From someone who has Autism, many factors such as tone and body language could affect how they perceive someone's tone and presence.

Ling also said to prevent this confusion, people should be very clear about their intentions even if they already think they are being clear.