My College Experience as Someone on the Autism Spectrum | Organization for Autism Research

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Self advocate Erin Clemens shares her thoughts regarding her undergraduate experience while studying to become a teacher, and what motivated her to finish college and beyond. This blog was originally posted on The Mighty.

School was always a challenge for me. I remember struggling to understand what the teachers wanted from me. I remember fearing they would be upset when I tried my best to do what they asked, but still wasn’t right. I worried they would think I was purposefully not listening to them.

I remember feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated by large groups of children, but when I tried to hide in a corner searching for some quieter space, the teachers would force me to join in with the other kids.

I remember sitting, listening to an audio book set while looking at the pictures in the book itself. I loved that book so much, and would listen to it over and over. But then a teacher insisted that I move on to other books I didn’t care for. I was bored with them, so I simply lost interest in the reading activity altogether.

These kinds of issues just got worse through middle and high school. By the time I was officially diagnosed as on the autism spectrum when I was 15, I had missed out on the opportunity for early intervention (which probably would have helped me). And while people finally began to understand me better and help me more, my childhood was already almost over. My junior and senior years of high school were basically spent recovering from the prolonged stress of being undiagnosed after I had transferred to a school that understood me better.

However, some positive things have come from this experience. I have decided to become a special education teacher myself. And in the process, I have met two amazing college professors who are helping me learn how to be the teacher I wish I had when I was younger. Dr. Jean Allison and Dr. Debra Lawrence of Delaware County Community College have been a wonderful source of knowledge and support for me. They have truly helped me get to where I am today, and are helping me to overcome the challenges I have faced my entire life.

Not only are they supporting me in my education, but they are also teaching me how to be that support for future young children. They remind me that being a teacher isn’t about simply teaching the ABCs. It’s more important to let children play and facilitate their learning. Children need that time to process the world around them, rather than doing worksheets. They have reminded me that I need to get to know and understand the individual child and what works best for them.

So to my professors, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for helping to make sure that what I went through as a child doesn’t happen to future children.


About the Author

Erin Clemens's Profile Photo, Image may contain: 1 person, smilingErin Clemens is a young woman on the autism spectrum. When she is not in school or working, she likes to spend her time volunteering and watching “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” She is also the author of the book “I Have Asperger’s,” and hopes that she can impact the lives of those in the autism community by sharing her own experiences. 


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