It was a typical walk to my dorm after a long day of classes. As I reached for my phone to skip to the next song on my playlist, I noticed a loose thread sticking out of my hoodie. It’s a sight that I’ve encountered many times before, but there was something about this thread in the late afternoon sun that caused me to stop and reflect.
I was diagnosed with autism at about age 2. For as long as I can remember, I have been both incredibly sensitive to and incredibly disconnected from my environment. On one hand, loud noises and bright lights could send toddler-aged me into a meltdown. I hated the texture of jeans to the point where I couldn’t wear them for many years. Each stimulus dragged me in every which way as though I were a disobedient puppy on its leash. On the other hand, I felt as though I was born without ties to the world. Navigating my surroundings felt like walking on a tightrope. I learned to follow what others were doing, and I held onto their lead as though I’d fall if I were to let go. Through all of this, my family scrutinized me for just about everything, from the way I socialized (or didn’t socialize) to the way I swept the floor. I spent my childhood hanging by a thread.
For a long time, I thought I was to blame for these struggles. I controlled myself like a puppet on a string, hoping to receive approval from my family, my peers, and the world. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do things the ‘right’ way, the way I was expected to do things; if I couldn’t do things ‘right,’ then how was I supposed to make it in the real world? It was a question that plagued me until, suddenly, I found myself in the beginning of adulthood.
As an adult, it may not be obvious to others, but I notice the threads tying me back to my childhood: a loud noise that rests uncomfortably in my back, an unfamiliar place that feels impossible to navigate, a mistake that seems to prove that I can’t do anything ‘right.’ Then there was the thread that clung to my hoodie as I once had: the need to express myself authentically.
The criticisms I received growing up made me feel as though my expression didn’t have a place in the world. Within the last few years, however, I’ve realized that a lot of them existed because of the idea that atypical means ‘wrong.’ Because I was born atypical, I was suspended in a permanent state of ‘wrongness’ not only by stimuli, but by the expectation of ‘rightness.’ It was only through deconstructing the idea of ‘right’ that I was able to learn that what made me ‘wrong’ was what made me who I am. I am human because I am ‘wrong.’
My advocacy is a work in progress. Sharing myself to the world has always been a challenge, but I am slowly gaining the courage to do it more and more. I’m learning to sever the threads that keep me tied down to the idea that being autistic makes me flawed. But I am also learning to hold onto the threads that keep me connected to my authentic self. I’m forming connections with my surroundings in my own way, and as such, I’m learning to advocate for myself in my own way. This is perhaps the biggest piece of advice I can give to a student advocate: the journey starts within yourself. By discovering the threads that connect you back to your subconscious, you will begin to realize that some threads connecting you to the world only serve to make you feel ‘wrong.’ It is important to let go and create new threads that show that you are ‘right’ as you are.
Beck Schneider (he/him) is a first year biomedical engineering student at Drexel. He hopes to pursue a concentration in tissue engineering and work in a research laboratory after graduation. In his free time, Beck enjoys writing poetry. His work is forthcoming in Maya, Drexel’s undergraduate literary and arts magazine.