Aspie Grad Student

Before I go into the main contents of this post, I just want to give a suggestion about a great post that I just read last night. If you haven’t already, you should head over to Shiva’s Biodiverse Resistance blog and read his latest post called Changelings. We’re talking Serious Awesomeness here. It’s a post about the concepts of changelings, fairies and trolls in relationship to disabled children.

On with the post!

If you look through any of my notes for class, you’ll see a variety of things, I’m sure. Obviously you’ll find notes, written in something resembling the handwriting of a tired doctor writing with his non-dominant hand. And yes, I have tried writing with the other hand. It looks the same no matter what; only thing is, the other hand is slower.

In addition to that, you’ll see any number of doodles. I draw this pattern a lot, but I also do faces; in particular, I’m currently stuck on drawing noses, since I recently figured out how to make them actually look like noses. No easy feat.

There is one other thing that you’ll also see written on many of the pages. Things like:

  1. Raise your hand before speaking.
  2. Don’t answer questions unless you’re more than 85% sure that you’re right.
  3. Only ask the questions that you really have to.
  4. Only answer when no one else in the room has an answer.
  5. Speak clearly and audibly.
  6. Don’t talk too fast.
  7. Keep your answers concise and to the point; in as few words as is possible.

I’m a music therapy graduate student who, as a result of not getting her undergrad in music therapy (got it in instrumental music ed), is also taking part in an equivalency program. Basically the issue is this: in the undergrad degree, not only do you get a degree, but you also get certified as a music therapist. So I’m a grad student with grad classes, but I also have upper level undergrad classes as well. And they’re not easy either.

You would think that for most grad students, the concepts listed above would be common sense, but as I have already pointed out again and again, I’m not the average of most anything. In fact, many of those concepts, other than the raising hand one, only started occurring to me around my junior year in undergrad (’round 2004). That, and the fact that I almost always tend to do my homework, mixed with some natural (but wacky) intelligence, tends to mean that I get myself into trouble during classes sometimes; only some classes are worse than others. Most of the notes that I have written here are, in fact, all for one teacher. I do okay in the rest of my classes, but just in this one class, I don’t know, I think I just really like the topic; so in addition to doing my homework, I tend to read and research more than what is required.

One particular class is called “Psychology of Music II.” It’s purely a research class. In the first half of the class, we did acoustical physics in addition to anatomy, and various psychological topics. Psychology was my hobby all through undergrad; so it’s fair to say that I know more than the average joe on the street; as well as having several special interests that I tend to pour all of my free time (little as it is) into furthering my knowledge on. I’m largely self-taught. That’s something else that I realized recently. Most people think of learning as something that happens in a classroom, or possibly a workplace. My concept of learning is an everyday process of figuring out what I want to know, and then attempting to achieve that state of understanding as best I can from the resources that are available to me.

I tend to be hyperverbal, like most aspies, and that just in and of itself gets me into trouble. I’ve been known to, in the past, fold paper in half and then put it in front of me, like one might do with a name tag, and write the words, “SHUT UP,” on the back of it, so I can see it really clearly whenever I look up from my notes. The people in my class have answers, but they’re frequently hesitant to answer, or else they’re so far off base that it makes me want to pound my head through the wall. Then again, my answers are occasionally a bit odd, but that’s usually because I’ve read too much into the question, or else, the parameters of the question weren’t well set, and I find myself roaming into other related areas that weren’t even considerations of the professor to begin with. Oops.

The tendency of my answers to do that, to go off on what seemingly appears as a tangent, is actually a helpful tool in writing essays, since they want you to relate material, and if you can do it and prove it, then it tends to be okay. However, in class . . . not so much.

There is also one other issue. In my struggle for survival in life, I’ve become a bit of a smart ass. I must admit, however, that I’m pretty funny, because I just can toss these comments out at random, and about 80% of the time, most people laugh pretty hard. I think that’s why I like Dr. McCoy from the original Star Trek. There’s a line in “The Undiscovered Country,” (the 6th movie), where they are being bombarded by missiles from a Shakespeare quoting Klingon (yeah I know, only early Star Trek could get away with that one), and McCoy and Spock are down in the depths doing surgery on a torpedo/missile thing (can’t remember its exact name), and they’re getting knocked around like crazy, and McCoy just says, “Well this is fun,” in a totally dry tone. I swear I crack up every time I hear him say it. I love smart asses. That’s why I love Hawkeye from M*A*S*H so much.

Anyways, the last 3 weeks or so have just been like one big, long bad day for me. I’ve been either talking too much, or just giving the wrong answers, or screwing up musically, or something at least once per day, and often more like once per class. But the last two days, Tuesday and Wednesday (today is Thursday, I think), have both been good. No one sniped at me about acting (or not acting) like an adult; no one yelled at me for any musical mistakes. Well, I did make one, but it wasn’t so bad; just kind of special. *laughs* I played something in my practicum (like a mini-internship with real clients) that should have been in 4/4 time, but I played it in 3/4 instead. Luckily it worked anyway and it didn’t throw the client off. Whew.

I also did get one look yesterday from a professor, but she didn’t say anything. Remember that I have to do a content analysis/literature review, right?  Well, we were going over one in my psych of music class, and my professor says something like, “wow this person reviewed 52 articles!  That’s a lot!”  And I said to her, “Not really!”  And she shoots me this look that something between: “What did I do to get stuck with you?” and “Oh my god!!!”  *laughs*  But she didn’t say anything, and that’s the important bit.

Plus last night, I was really really calm for like 3 hours, and that was really cool, because I’m usually kind of bouncy and wiggly.  In fact, my father’s nickname for me as a child, was “rotisserie butt.”  I’m even like this when I sleep.

So, I guess the point of all this was something like, hey look at me!   No, wait.  It was more like “see what I can do even though I’m kind of on the wacky side of life.”  Wacky aspie, that’s me.  Just for reference, if you haven’t read much on this blog, let me tell you that I graduated in the top 10% of my undergrad class, with a gpa of 3.83, magna cum laude.  Last semester (my first in grad school), I got out with a 3.8, and I suspect that this semester will be better.  I do my work; I get my homework done; I read, study, think . . . dream on occasion . . . I’m just like any other grad student in some ways.  I just have to work harder at some things than others do; even some academic subjects, since I don’t tend to see obvious answers like most people and have to go about different ways to get to the same result as most.

There’s a quote that I found during one of my research periods that I think works quite well here.

*Belmonte & Yurgelan-Todd (2003) said that “even when people with autism produce normal behavioral output, they tend to do so by abnormal physiological means” (pp. 652).  That’s me.

*Belmonte, M., & Yurgelun-Todd, D. (2003).  Functional anatomy of impaired selective attention and compensatory processing in autism.  Cognitive Brain Research, 17, 651-664.

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~ by lastcrazyhorn on February 21, 2008.

8 Responses to “Aspie Grad Student”

  1. This is kind of off-topic, but ever since you mentioned that you attend TWU I’ve had this ear-worm: The second strain of “Daughters of Texas” keeps going around and around in my head. I just now gave in and cued it up. (I have the recording by Keith Brion and the Royal Artillery Band.)
    All the best from a fellow autistic band nerd, at The Right of the Line.

  2. I am intrigued that you are so talkative in class. My problem was I ceased speaking. I was so non-existant in the social scale/hierachy that I ‘didn’t count’. Throughout all my school years. Not on the map. Yet I was well read and ahead of the rest. It was harrowing to have it all brought back to me thirty five years later in a foreign language class on Saturday afternoons that I attended for ten weeks. I had sufficient confidence to cope with a group of five of us (all non native) and all lovely people. I enjoyed those lessons. Though it was destined to all go wrong, another class was amalgamated. Disaster. I made an excuse halfway though at the second week with them and left. The new people were so ignorant and completely intolerable. Foul manners and all native English – so full of presumptions and judgements – which I feel acutely. Its the Keats thing – skinlessness. I was sweating, flushing red and going to pieces. What a curse.

  3. that has to be about the coolest major in the world. how did your presentation go?

    i love me some smartasses.

  4. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you share. It gives me a window into how both my kids act, even on their different ends of the spectrum, when they don’t have the words to explain themselves.

    And I’m using your bullying post to bash my school IEP team over the head because you’re so much more eloquent than I am on this particular subject. Thanks, again, for this window into what your life is like.

  5. Woot!

  6. Do you think those concepts mean anything to me either!

    I am notorious for interupting lectures and even when I am asked to be quiet, I don’t stop until I have said what I intended to. It is quiet a regular occurence unfortunately, and I know it does annoy some of the other students (because they have said so)

    When I interupt though I do speak audibly and clearly, though sometimes very fast when I have a mini lecture, to deliver in the space between the lecturers words.

    I suppose that might come in useful during my Viva, I will bury my examiners in words if they dare to take me on 🙂

  7. Hey, thanks for the plug! Actually re-reading that post, there are some seriously clunky grammar errors in there that made me wince. I might edit it.

    Anyway, there’s a *lot* of stuff here that i can relate to: crazy scrawly handwriting, doodling in margins, hyperverbality… even the attitude to learning as something that happens everywhere and all the time rather than in a compartmentalised way. I hadn’t really thought about that being an Aspie thing, but it actually kind of makes sense…

    As to the “rules”… i’m not sure they’re *all* positive (or would be for me), especially rule 4 – that one, to me, seems like a slightly self-hating kind of self-sacrifice. It reminds me a bit of Elmindreda’s “Some rules I live by” (which i think is also a really good companion piece to your recent post on bullying).

    I always got really frustrated in my seminars at uni because they would nearly always go 1 of 2 ways: either the discussion would be at a far lower level than the actual stuff i had read for it, and not interest me at all, and i’d say nothing, or i would have loads of ideas, but be the only person trying to engage with the topic, and it would rapidly become a 2-way conversation between me and the seminar tutor, with everyone else sitting there saying nothing, and i would feel like i had intimidated everyone else or something (even though i really, really *wanted* the other students to jump into the discussion too, and would even stop, look around and ask “what do you think?”… only to get shrugs or total unresponsiveness). Either way i usually left the seminar feeling like i knew less about the topic than before (which was why, when i finally got my diagnosis in my last year of uni, the one accommodation i asked for, and thankfully got, was a waiver of the “compulsory seminar attendance” rule).

    Anyway, i really strongly feel that no one should limit themselves from speaking up just because of other people’s unwillingness to. That’s their problem, not yours…

    (maybe i am just twisted, but in my head “rotisserie butt” sounds like something really nasty…)

  8. Yeah, that’s my problem too. I want other people to answer, but then they don’t and I’m stuck there. That’s why I said I can answer only if no one else says anything. And the reason the rules are set so high, like #4, is that the chances of my ever achieving them are extremely low, which always gives me something to strive for. If I meet my goal, I relax and bad things happen. lol. Which is just about the opposite for most people, I realize.

    Thanks for the link. I’ll go and check it out.

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