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 ūüôā
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