Though I am a 2013 recipient of a Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship, I’ve never really liked school. The school environment never really felt safe to me due to the large numbers of
people around, lots of loud noises and bright lights in the building, and too many social interactions that confused me and made me feel upset. I also didn’t care for classes because those consisted mainly of lectures that I found boring and written assignments that frustrated and upset me because I have difficulty writing.
After graduating from high school, it would have been easy for me to just retreat into my home. However, through encouragement from my parents and my Individual Education Plan (IEP) manager in high school, I was convinced that I needed education past high school in order to be independent and move beyond the challenges that Asperger Syndrome presents.
Taking the First Step
The first step in achieving higher education was attending the local technical college while still in high school. My IEP team helped me make a plan during my junior year to begin part time at Flint Hills Technical College the following year, majoring in network technology.
This was the boost I really needed and starting at the tech college made the transition to attending college full time much easier. I was able to attend college classes during my senior year of high school to get dual credit with tuition paid for by the school district. Early on, I found that I was able to function better in those college classes, because they allow for more group discussion and hands-on work.
Focusing on Strengths and Strengthening Weaknesses
This past year, while attending Flint Hills full time, I realized that I needed to focus on skills I am good at rather than my deficits. For example, I have three strengths that are crucial to having good communication skills: my ability to remember facts by concentrating on what the person is talking about, trying to not interrupt when someone else is talking, and
remembering to leave the channel of communication open by pausing after I speak, to allow for a brief question or a nod to encourage additional communications.
Though I focus on what I can do well, I also keep in mind that I have difficulty with eye contact. I know that is because of my Asperger syndome, which makes it uncomfortable for me to look directly into someone else’s eyes. In addition, I try to be aware of and understand that communication symbols can be hard for me to pick up. For example, I sometimes use a loud voice when I don’t mean to or realize I’m doing so. When I see people backing off, staring at me, or raising their voice at me, I know it’s probably time to use what my mom used to call my “inside voice.”
Body language is another social interaction I have trouble with. I know I sometimes come across to people like I don’t care or that I’m not listening when I really am. I also don’t notice when others feel the conversation is over and they’re ready to move on. I think by being aware of these social skills I have difficulty with and by getting more experience understanding and practicing them, I have improved my listening skills, which is crucial to having a successful college experience.
A ‘what-not-to-do’ lesson I have learned is my iPod usage. In high school, I was allowed to use my iPod to listen to music in order to help me cope with the environment there. It helped, but I found that using it during my college classes kept me from hearing important information from the teacher and was a block to developing positive interactions with other students.
Starting with Community or Technical College
Attending college part time while still having the supports of high school allowed me to get used to the college routine more slowly, realize that tech college classes would be more hands on than high school classes, and work on my social skills in a friendlier environment.
I highly recommend that all high school students, especially those on the autism spectrum, consider beginning at a community or technical college. Even if you plan to continue at a four-year college, as I plan to do in the fall of 2015, a community or technical college is a great place to begin the transition from high school to adulthood and independence.
John “Jack” Dorcey will complete an associate’s degree in computer networking from Flint Hills Technical College in May 2015. He plans to attend Emporia State University to earn a bachelor’s degree in history and continue graduate work there in the archival study option through the Library Sciences Program. His ultimate dream job is to digitally archive materials for a museum, which he had the opportunity to do as an intern at the Lyon County Historical Society and Archives this past summer. Dorcey lives in Emporia, Kan., with his parents, Mike and Denise, and younger sister, Anne.