Becoming a Writer
My name is Benjamin Kellogg, and for all twenty years of my life, I have lived with a condition called autism. Autism affects the way I think and act around people; I find it difficult to grasp certain concepts while others seem crystal clear to me. I am currently facing one of the most challenging periods of my life as an autistic person as I pursue a Liberal Arts degree at a community college near my home.
Even though some might call my autism a debilitating condition which greatly limits the type of experiences I can have, I feel that I have lived just as fully as anyone else could. I am an only child in a small family, living with my mother and father. We used to have a cat, who I considered one of my closest companions, but she passed away recently and I still miss her dearly. I also have a large extended family which includes grandparents and many aunts, uncles, and cousins who I see very often. So I have been able to learn much about social situations from attending informal gatherings, weddings, reunions, and other family functions. I have a support system of friends and former teachers who I continue to stay in contact with; they have become close confidantes and help me to learn about the wider world around me. I have also developed a wide range of interests which cross over into TV shows, movies, comic books, videogames, and especially books. It is my passion for books which led me to pursue a career as a writer.
I feel that writing has helped me to overcome one of the most limiting aspects of my autism. Due to this condition, I often struggle with the ability to effectively communicate what I am thinking or feeling to others. By learning to write effectively, I have forced myself to directly confront this problem, and in the process, I feel that I have become greatly liberated. When I write, I feel my thoughts flowing through me to my fingers as I compose words on a page or type them using a keyboard. No obstacles hinder the process of transforming my thoughts into forms that others can understand.
I decided to go to college to learn how to become a better writer. Thus far, I have learned much about refining the way that I write and about living with autism in a collegiate setting. I attend online because I feel most comfortable learning on my own away from a customary school environment; I have been home-schooled for many years, and thus feel most comfortable working by myself. Another reason that I am completing my degree online is because I do not drive. I do not trust my hand-eye coordination enough to consider obtaining a driver’s license. I have always had difficulties with fine and gross motor planning, so I do not feel confident enough to drive to the campus and back. Working online has necessitated that I learn how to communicate with professors and other students in a formal setting. I had some trouble with this at first because I had never had the opportunity to practice this skill before. I attended a specialized preschool class for two years and public elementary school for four years, but the majority of my formal schooling was spent being home-schooled by my mother.
College has also helped me to learn how to do things most adults have to do, but which I, as an autistic person, struggle with. I have to check all of my courses for new assignments and posts from my professors and fellow students, do all of my required work in a timely manner and to the best of my ability, and keep up with a constantly changing and very demanding schedule. As an autistic person, I feel more comfortable with a simple, relatively unchanging schedule than one which undergoes many sudden, unexpected changes. If my schedule does go awry, I become confused, frustrated, and anxious. As I continue in my college studies, I believe that I am becoming better able to handle sudden schedule changes; they feel like a natural part of life, which in itself is constantly changing. I feel that this will help me to learn how to handle the pressures of being a working adult.
As of this writing, I have completed three college semesters and am just starting my fourth. My classes have helped me to greatly expand my knowledge and to formulate a viewpoint of the world around me. They have also taught me how to properly conduct myself as a working adult. As I begin to take the path into adulthood, my experiences as an autistic person in college have forged me with a great resolve.
In this column, I will describe what it is like to experience college as an autistic person. My regular course work, coupled with the communication problems brought on by my autism, bring numerous struggles into my life. I will discuss each of them in turn and present the various solutions which I found to be most effective. I believe that negotiating the obstacles of autism and college life will prepare me for dealing with the challenges that will undoubtedly come up in the future. My hope is that as I share my struggles with you, it will benefit those of you out there living or dealing with autism as we face new situations together.