William Dash describes his journey through life.
When I was 2½ years old, I was diagnosed with autism. I was nonverbal and self-abusive. My parents were told that I’d have to be put in a support home for the rest of my life. Two years ago, I graduated from Oakland University with a bachelor of arts in history and a minor in Judaic studies, cum laude.
I’ve always felt that just because someone is given a diagnosis, it does not mean they can’t go to college. I enrolled at Macomb Community College planning to earn a psychology degree. Instead, I decided to earn a history degree.
When I was in pre-secondary school, my mom was my advocate. Now I had to be my own advocate for the first time, requesting special services such as sitting at the front of the class, recording lectures and taking tests in a quiet room. To receive services, I had to request letters from the disability office and hand the letters to my professors. I would wait until the end of class to hand in the letters because I was really nervous approaching my professors.
Navigating both campuses was a big challenge for me. In high school, all my classes were in one building. In college, I would have to go to multiple buildings for each class. MCC was big enough, but OU was like a small town. I would go to the campuses a week before classes started to figure out where each class was. Once I knew where all the buildings were, I didn’t do it as often (unless I had to go to a new building).
Since I don’t drive, getting to and from college was difficult. There were times when the ADA bus service made me want to scream, especially when I started Oakland. Whenever the bus was late, I would have a meltdown, but it was something I had to deal with. I preferred when I got to school early, so that I could get some work done at the library and decompress from the bus ride.
The whole time I was in college, no one bullied me. When I did tell people about my disabilities, no one put me down. Whenever we had to meet outside for group projects, and I told my group I didn’t drive, they were accommodating. I had one group tell me I could FaceTime into the meeting.
My last semester at Oakland, when I took four classes, was definitely the hardest. I remember one day when I was typing up notes for an exam the next day, I suddenly broke down crying because I felt I wouldn’t be ready. But when I passed my classes, I could breathe again.
About a week before graduation, I was able to take a tour where the ceremony would take place with a coordinator. She told me what to expect during graduation. On graduation night I was more excited than anxious, even when the bagpipes played loudly right next to me. I’d have to say it went a lot smoother than my graduation at MCC, where I forgot my name card in the waiting area and had to go back for it (making me last but not least in getting my degree).
Now out of college, I face one of the hardest challenges of my life — finding work. One of my professors told me there weren’t many college teaching positions. He also mentioned how some previous history students work in the writing industry because they had to write so many papers. I really liked writing papers for classes, so I decided I’d try to look for work either writing, editing or proofreading. So far nothing has come to fruition. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I have autism or because of my lack of experience. Either way, I’m not giving.
William Dash is a writer who lives in Clinton Township. He’s a member of Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township.