Meet Bill :) A soon to be OTD student with Asperger's

I had the pleasure of meeting Bill at the AOTA conference in Indiana. What a great guy. He agreed to do a three-part blog post on getting through OT school as a person with Asperger’s 🙂
Part 1-
I am going to be a licensed occupational therapist in a few months.  I also have Asperger’s almost two years ago.  From some people outside our profession, this might not make too much sense to them.  Occupational therapy (OT) is arguably considered as one of the most socially demanding professions.  Being an occupational therapist not only requires great social skills, but also ability to read his/her clients’ social cues.  Yet, here I am as a person on the autism spectrum beating the odds and flourishing in this profession.  Not only am I close to getting my license, but I am also on top of the social scene in OT. 
After careful considerations, I decided to break this into a 3-part blog.  For this current part, it will talk about me up to the point I started OT school.
Per my mom’s account, I met most of my developmental milestones during the infant/toddler stage in Hong Kong, my birthplace.  The only noticeable area of deficit was that I wasn’t able to speak until I was around two and a half to three year old range.  Yet, through my mom’s help, I was able to get into a decent kindergarten less than a 5-minute walk away from the first placed I lived in Happy Valley, Hong Kong.  (In Hong Kong, children typically spend 3 years in kindergarten from age 3-5.)
I didn’t truly know about my fine motor skills because I was switched from a lefty to a righty in my early kindergarten days.  Meanwhile, I did enjoy playing with a kid who lived nearby during that time for play dates at a nearby field that has now become a practice field for local soccer teams.  We enjoyed playing with each other.  My social skills then were considered adequate.
However, I have a mild obsession with Hot Wheels like cars.  I can play with them for an hour or two at a time.  I also another obsession- keeping track of the numbers on the top of the trams passing by the porch near the place we live in Happy Valley.  My mom thought it was a little weird, as she took me to a pediatrician.  But, the pediatrician said that I wasn’t on the autism spectrum.
After my kindergarten years, my academic development and social development seemed to have gone their separate ways.  Academically, I have performed at least average in academic subjects.  Math had become my standout subject after I started 3rd grade.  Sure, I had to spend 3 years to play catch up in regards to mastering English when my family and I immigrated to the states when I was in 6th grade.  But, after I was mainstreamed in 9th grade for English, I continued to be a good, but not great academically in high school. 
Undergrad was my first experiences of struggle academically.  It was tough for me for several reasons.  First, I was completely on my own with my studies, particularly in Statistics, as my parents no longer could help me in trying to help me understand what I was studying when I was unable to solve some problems.  Second, I didn’t know that I would be in for theoretical and abstract math when I picked Math (and later switched to Statistics) as my undergrad major, which I struggled mightily because I couldn’t get a grasp of the concepts I was learning.  Lastly, seeing everyone else also struggled (albeit to a little lesser degree) made it a very unpleasant experience even though my undergrad GPA might have suggested a different story.
Socially, however, was a major struggle during most of these times.  I was constantly picked on for my arts and crafts projects when I was in elementary school in Hong Kong, and the D’s and F’s I received for them made matters a lot worse.  Then, when I started middle school in the states, girls were freaked out when they had to touch my hands that can get sweaty without warning (which they had to during a dance elective in 6th grade).  These two traumas significantly affected my social confidence, especially when I got to know someone for the first time.  I also became extra cautious in making friends because I didn’t want to get hurt again emotionally.
In terms of autistic traits, my play skills were subpar during my elementary school and middle school days in Hong Kong.  But, the fact that my social confidence was shattered can be considered as an “interaction factor”.  Meanwhile, my eye contact only became an issue when I had to do assignments that require public speaking.  However, because of my academic success, none of the teachers I had until I started college made much of an issue about the possibility of me having autism.
In my college days, I had become content of my own company.  I never minded getting around school by myself.  I also generally preferred engaging in solitary occupations, as practicing piano has become my go-to occupation when I wasn’t studying for school.
Another seemingly autistic trait is that I rarely make telephone calls with anyone.  When email became a popular mode of communication, I used email to communicate in situations I would have called personally.  My “rationale” for this was that I could make sure I said what I wanted to say in emails, where I might have left things out if I spoke on the phone.
Lastly, I was known as a competitor and my nickname since high school was the “human calculator”.  In college, I found no limit texas hold’em.  As soon as my dorm mates introduced the game to me, I have become obsessed of that poker game.  After all, I know I can have an unfair advantage when I play the game with my math skills.  Moreover, because of my love to compete, I always tried to learn the latest strategies.  At a high point, I can be seen honing my poker skills via playing play money poker tournaments 3-4 hours a day on top of the home games with my dorm mates for at least another 6 hours (if there is a poker tournament that day).
Yet, unbeknownst to my family, the people around me, and myself, autism was still the last thing on anyone’s mind.  In fact, I just perceived myself as an introvert who was capable of holding a decent conversation.  After all, the occupations I primarily engage in seemed to be normal in society.  In fact, Chris Moneymaker’s win at the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2003 actually “normalized” my obsession for poker.
To be continued….
Jun 12, 2012 | Category: Occupational Therapy | Comments: none

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