I am Rachel Newlin. I’m 19, an honor student, an activist and student leader on my campus. And I am autistic.
I won’t blame you if you were surprised by that last part. Many people don’t have experience with autistic girls or women, according to the CDC, the autism rate for males is 4.5 times higher than that for females. In addition, when people think of autism, they generally think of savants, extremely low-functioning individuals or a Sheldon Cooper-type genius. It’s often not realized that people with high-functioning autism can blend in with the general population.
That isn’t to say that it’s always easy to be autistic, especially as a college student. It’s incredibly hard for me to recognize sarcasm, understand social cues or understand when people are being sincere or just being polite. In addition, I am very sensitive to loud noises and bright lights, which makes many events that are fun for most people (concerts, dances, football games, etc.) nerve-wracking and emotionally draining for me.
In addition, I was absolutely terrified about the prospect of making friends at college. I was considered to be “weird” in middle school and high school and there were long stretches during those years where I had no friends at all. The prospect of college, where I would be surrounded by total strangers in unfamiliar settings every single day, was daunting for me.
However, I had the incredible luck to make friends with my roommate. This was especially surprising because I had dreaded the thought of sharing my bedroom with another person, as my room at home was my place to recharge and relax after an exhausting day of being around other people. My roommate is so sweet and funny. We bonded quickly. This was a godsend, because I gained the confidence to join clubs and attend some events where I was able to meet some great people.
I am doing better than I ever thought I would in college. I have leadership positions in several clubs, get good grades and have awesome friends. The reason that I’m able to do these things, however, is kindness. Unlike when I was younger, people don’t bully me. People enjoy my quirks instead of mocking them, my boundaries are respected, and I am appreciated. All of these things make me feel like a person first, and autistic second.
Although I am not defined by my autism, it is and always will be a part of me. My unique outlook on the world, for example, is a direct result of it, and I don’t wish to be “cured” of it. Having people who understand and support me makes all the difference in the world. I do not need to be healed, I need to thrive. I love and appreciate the person I am, and firmly believe that empathy and kindness should be shown to everyone, and autistic people are no exception. Understanding and accepting people with all kinds of differences will only make the world a better place for everyone.
Lead Image Credit: Pexels