• J.R. Reed

Going Back to College on the Spectrum, Nerves, and Accommodations


I’m on the north side of age 50 and went through high school and spent a lot of years getting an AA in journalism back in the late 80’s in a time before anything was known about autism in kids and, as I like to say, before there was a spectrum to be on.


I’ve thought about going back to school several times over the years to get a bachelor’s in journalism but have always talked myself out of it at the last minute for the dumbest of reasons.


For most of my life I’ve been told that I’m smart, which I am, but that I would never live up to my potential. You have no idea how demoralizing that is to hear as a child and as an adult. My earliest memories are of that and I continue to hear it and, to some extent, to believe it.


It’s been ingrained in my mind and in my psyche and no matter how hard I try to get rid of it, I have yet to come up with a foolproof way to do so.


After twenty years of freelance writing, having been published in over thirty different magazines, a dozen daily newspapers and more websites than I care to count, I realized I don’t need another degree in journalism.


I’ve since turned my focus and my writing to autism, mental health and advocating for those things and what I need is more knowledge to help me succeed in this endeavor.


Now, in the Spring of 2020, next week in fact, I’m going back to junior college to get an AA degree in Behavioral Studies. At least that’s the plan. After the AA is finished, I need to decide whether I’ll go on and get a Bachelors, but I want to see how this experience goes before making any more life altering decisions.


Self-esteem and belief in myself have always been two of my downfalls and things that have kept me from being the person I always believed I could be. I know that great things are possible for me, but self-sabotage and a lack of belief get in the way of things and stop any momentum I begin to make.


I went through high school and finished junior college without any accommodations and without knowing I was autistic/Asperger’s. That’s mainly because medical professionals weren’t aware that kids at that age could be diagnosed and thus there were no accommodations for me to have. I was labeled “weird,” “stupid,” and “lazy” by my teachers, which didn’t help my self-esteem at all.


When I decided that I was going to give college another shot I told my girlfriend about it and she was happy that I was going back and in what my major was. We both agreed that with my previous journalism classes, this was a great thing to study to help with my advocacy work and my work with Not Weird Just Autistic.


Even though I was scared and didn’t truly believe that I could do it, she did and that meant the world to me and gave me confidence that I desperately needed. I appreciate that more than she will ever know.


This time, however, I’m going back and I’m getting help with school through the Disability Resources Office. I’m lucky in that I know the director through my advocacy work, and he’s been able to point me in the right direction and help me get the things I need to make college a success this time around.


The biggest accommodation that I’m getting has to do with my severe hearing loss, a common trait among adults on the spectrum, and with my delayed processing. It’s called a QTS system and after going through training on it yesterday, it seems to be one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time.


I’ll be telling you more about the QTS system and how it’s working for me and helping me in the next few weeks after I’ve had a chance to try it out and to experience it firsthand.

What is it? Well, it’s an iPad setup with Skype, a very special and unique word processing program and a transcriber at the other end of Skype. It’s kind of like closed captioning for my classes.


QTS knows my class schedule and I simply sit in the front row so I can be near the instructor, log in to Skype three or four minutes before class, follow a link that my transcriber gives me to open up the word processing app on Chrome and then let them use the iPad’s microphone and listen to the instructor give the lecture.


I can see the transcription as it’s being done on Chrome and if there are any problems, such as background noise or the transcriber not being able to hear the instructor clearly, we can chat on Skype.


Within twenty-four hours after class, I’ll get an e-mail with the transcribed lecture that I can download to my computer and print up if I so desire.


With three classes back to back to back (Ethics, Sociology and Psychology) two days a week, it will be a couple of long days for me, but with this help and being able to pay attention to the instructor, I know my chances of success are rising.


I encourage anyone on the spectrum, anyone with a developmental disability or any type of disability that wants to go back to school to seize the moment and follow your dreams. And to work with your school’s Disability Resource Office (or whatever they call it at your school) so they can help you make the most of your college experience.


It doesn’t matter if you’re just coming out of high school, or if like me, you’re on the plus side of fifty. With the help and technology available now, it can be done.


I still have a few doubts about my classes, which is natural for someone who has spent their life hearing that they can’t do things, but with the tools I now have, with the support of the Disability Support Office and having someone special in my life who truly believes in me, I’m feeling much better about myself and about the odds.


Do you have a disability of some kind and are you wanting to go back to school? My suggestion is to take the plunge, apply to the school of your choice, contact the appropriate people at your school and let them do their jobs and help you be a success.


Keep watching the blog for more updates on the progress of my classes and my state of mind as well as how my belief in myself is changing as the semester goes on. Also look for the post reviewing and talking about the QTS system.


If you have the dream to go back to school, no matter your reason, take the first steps and start now.

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