Graham with the WMIRA trophy
I've just finished my freshman year at Boston University.
Everyone worries about the transition to college life, especially when that college is over 500 miles from home. You have to start over in terms of friendships and routine, while maintaining your grades. For someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, this transition was more than just adjusting to the new environment; it also meant transitioning to the people who would live with me for the next four years.
Starting over socially
When we began working, I started to see myself as separate from the other group members. I couldn't comprehend how they could be so talkative in the morning after just waking up, and I struggled to understand the formation of friendships between the group members.
I was very low-key, and only tended to speak when spoken to, or with one of the coordinators of our group. Talking to new people was not something entirely foreign to me; I had gotten to know many back in high school when I was part of the rowing team. But now, I was no longer around anyone I knew and I had no idea how well they would take to someone telling them he had Asperger Syndrome.
My greatest fear was that they might say, “What is that,” or “Why are you telling us,” or “Is that why you’re so antisocial?” I didn't know how to respond to questions like these, so I kept myself from telling anyone why I was awkward in some social settings, and so quiet when I was around others. It made me feel even more different, and the problems that I thought I had overcome in high school began to emerge, like a healing wound opening once more.
Sharing my story
I was a person who loved the time he had to himself, to escape into the world of comic books, history and studying language for fun. But as I was a volunteer, I had to interact with others during the day, and I had to participate in the “bonding activities” meant to bring us together.
With each passing day, I learned how strange I felt, how separate I felt, and I started to feel like I could not keep these emotions within me for any longer. So much so, that one day after a full day of community service, as we were walking back to our dormitories, I stopped one of the counselors to speak with her for a few minutes. I felt that she was the most likely to understand if I told her about my Asperger’s and I managed to get her to sit down on a bench on the way back.
I began by telling her how I had had trouble making friends with some of my other colleagues, and how separate I felt from the others because I didn't talk as much, nor did I understand them. She asked why I felt that way, and my voice began to shake. I was so sure that I could not hold my emotions within me any longer, I began to weep uncontrollably, about how I had been diagnosed when I was 6, and I had felt this way for most of my life.
And what she said next shocked me to the core; she said, “You’re very brave to tell me this.” I had never really thought of doing this as being “brave” before, but she told me about how she too felt very upset and afraid her freshman year, and showed me compassion. As I poured out my emotions to her, I felt as though a huge weight that was holding me down and draining me of my energy was finally lifted from my body. I felt like I could breathe again; that all the pent up pressure was being released from my body, like a balloon letting all of its air out, slowly but surely. By the time we had finished talking, I knew I had made a true friend that day, and I began to feel that maybe some people would understand if I told them, and that I wouldn't have to keep this side of myself hidden forever.
And I hope to spread the message that we don’t have a disability; we just have a different mindset. And that is okay.