Part Two, Bill's Journey of becoming an OT with Asperger's
After I got out of undergrad, I was confident that I could get a job. I had a decent GPA. I believe that I have a good attitude once I land a job, since I am hoping to move on the career ladder once I gather more experiences. Unfortunately, it was also the beginning of the economic recession that we are still in right now. After a year of unsuccessful job hunt, my mom started talking to me about the possibility of going to school again.
Business school was the first thing my family considered. It is close to home in regards to what my strengths and weaknesses were. So, I took the GMAT. However, like what I have done on standardized tests, my so-so verbal skills caused me to only get a 560 on it. With a 560, I know I couldn’t get into a decent business school. Considering the economy situation, not getting into a great business school could mean a bad return on my family’s investment. So, there went the idea of going to business school.
Seminary was next on the list. I had been involved in church events for the past few years prior to that point. I also had come and know some people who have since become clergies today. Lastly, I have a knack of writing Christian things. However, everything came to a screeching halt when it comes to job prospects. Because of my language skills, I most likely will be working in an Episcopal Church with a lot of Chinese Christians in the US. As I remembered the insider information about the prospective Chinese churches I might be working at, what they might be able to offer me would definitely not be a great return for my family’s investment. Also, it was very likely I have to move out on my own, which would mean an extra set of expenses in just to make a living as a clergy.
Then, my mom repeatedly mentioned health care to me. Unfortunately, because of the C’s I had in Anatomy and Physiology in high school, I was very hesitant to try anything health care related, as I was in this state for a couple months or so. But as I continued to fail to land a job, I knew I had to suck up and try even in the midst of doubts. So, my mom talked to me about occupational therapy, as she learned about it through her interactions with a school-based OT through her job as an office administrator at an elementary school nearby where we live now. In October 2008, that was when I took the leap of faith to get my pre-requisites done in hopes of getting into an occupational therapy program some point in the 2009-2010 school year.
Most of my pre-requisite classes went smoothly. I also got a decent GRE score, largely thanks to a perfect score on the GRE Math section. Because of that, I got the good news of being accepted to USC’s Occupational Therapy program. Then, I was down to my least favorite pre-requisites, Anatomy and Physiology. My mom and I thought that 5-week intensive course for each of the subjects would be a quick and relatively not as painful way to get them done in early 2009. Physiology turned out to be OK, as I got a B despite I stumbled late. My first attempt at Anatomy, however, was a struggle. Despite doing decently on one test, I was facing a tough dilemma. On top of the fact that I was sick, I was in grave danger of not passing the course by the add/drop deadline. After weighing the odds, I decided a restart was probably the best move- even though the restart will be 4 weeks before the start of occupational therapy school for the 2009-2010 school year in summer 2009. After all, it was a now or never time then. Fortunately, because of the preparation work I did (through UC Berkeley Anatomy podcasts I was able to watch repeatedly online), I was able to get through the course.
When I first started occupational therapy school in summer 2009, I anticipated a tough transition. I knew nothing about the field. Having never seen what an OT does in any setting made matters worse. I didn’t have the type of background or experiences like my classmates had. Lastly, because I was coming from a department that curved a lot of its students’ grades, I had lost the relative sense of knowing how I well I would be really doing grades wise. Little did I know, it was a lot tougher than I anticipated!
First, there were a lot of women as my classmates, as they represented over 90% of the entire class. So, I knew I have to make friends with at least some of my female classmates. Second, I constantly got C’s or D’s in my Kinesiology and Neuroscience exams in the first semester. Making matters worse, I was among the bottom dwellers despite studying at the library into the evening almost every weekday. Fortunately, I was able to save myself from repeating both of these classes (as that would have cost me another year in my occupational therapy journey). Also, I was able to come out of my shell to develop friendships with my classmates.
The fall and semester were better for me, as I was able to get into the swing of things a little better. I began to know the key theories that are vital to the occupational therapy profession and for each of the specific disciplines. But since I still felt like I didn’t know as much about occupational therapy as I would have liked, I decided to go to the OTAC Annual Conference in 2009, as well as the AOTA conference in 2010. Through these experiences, I felt I have closed the knowledge gap between my classmates and I. Little did I know, my fieldwork eventually let me know something that I didn’t know- my diagnosis of Asperger’s.
Fieldwork was a struggle for me. I anticipated some of it because I never really had seen what each OT setting was like before. Moreover, I knew I was still trying to grasp what I was observing. But, all my CI’s from level 1 and my CI from my first level 2 all noticed one thing that I previously was not aware of- my difficulty of picking up people’s social cues. When I read that on my evaluations, I was like, “Huh? I was really that bad at this?”
After my first 2 level 1 CI’s gave me such comments, I came across a section about children with autism where I had to read for my pediatrics class. When I finished the reading, my jaws dropped because my mind kept on recalling what I experienced in my elementary school days in Hong Kong. To satisfy my curiosity, I took a few autism quotient tests online, which I was scored in the autistic range. With all these “evidence” in hand, I began to wonder if I have autism. But, my parents talked me out of it at the time because they thought that if I can be in the occupational therapy profession, I shouldn’t have autism.
In summer 2010, I was excited to go to level 2 fieldwork like the rest of my classmates. I tho
ught I was doing well when I received a decent 4 week review (which is something all USC OT students will get at the 4-week mark for their fieldwork assignments). However, the midterm review left me stunned. Sure, I fell behind in documentations. I also accidentally made a client angry. Lastly, one of my CI’s surprised me by role playing as a client in one of the groups I was supposed to lead, which caught me off guard. Yet, when I saw my midterm score, I was shocked to see I was miles away from where I needed to be at the midway point. On top of that, I saw the very same comment as my level 1’s- poor ability to read clients’ social cues.
Upon reading that midterm evaluation in early July 2010, I knew my chances of passing weren’t good. So, I made a painful decision to withdraw from my level 2 fieldwork, even though I know the consequences of doing so in this manner was considered a fail. I sobbed as I told my parents of my decision. Then, I continued saying, “I have seen comments like this way too many times despite trying very hard. I need to know what is going on. Now I have nothing to lose in trying to see if my hunches of having autism was right.”
A few days after that discussion, I arranged to see the clinical psychologist for a screening. 30 minutes later, she followed through by giving me a referral for a neuropsychological testing, which I was able to arrange for one a week later. Then, I awaited for the results, which I eventually learned the results on August 19, 2010.