Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Hermit in an Otherwise Inside Academic World

From all that is seen and unseen no unusual learning impediment, or idiosyncrasy for that matter, has probably ever etched its stone in a sociologically renowned two-year college in downtown Bridgeport, CT before I walked in. I was told before I registered that I would need a significant amount of (confidential) documentation describing the limitations associated with my high-functioning autistic self; I took it to heart that there were several, maybe hundreds of, others who had the same disability and applied to the same college, but my kind of disability was probably more of a normal kind than that of other autistic savants. It was not that difficult to contemplate--possibly because I was diagnosed with a mild kind of autism during my childhood--the social, personal, and academic hardships that would, nonetheless, lie ahead in an advanced post-secondary institution. But what you could say is that I never gave up my fullest scholastic and extracurricular potential, even if I continued to be a consummate outsider once and for all.

It is, without question, that Housatonic Community Colleges location isnt exactly located where, ironically at first, intellectual outsiders like me would consider an ideal environment. The heavily diverse city, which is only 20-30 minutes from the equally diverse city of New Haven and about 90 minutes away from the quintessential melting pot of Brooklyn, is notorious for its governmental and judicial corruption, inadequate public education systems, grimy and unaffordable apartments, aging infrastructure, vacant factories and department stores and high-rises, street drug dealings, and, ultimately, its socially and culturally disadvantaged inhabitants. There is a section of this city in which warm and cozy middle-classmen like me reside, but no where in the heart of this city are there effervescent kiosks and shops for them to buy the colorful discretionary goods they most desire. What I have to tell you right now is that this is a slight, maybe big for that matter, misconception. For better (or slightly for worse), Housatonic is a school where people from all walks of life, even those below the poverty line and detached from the outside world, seek a solid educational foundation and, as a result, have their lives radically transformed for more productive employment opportunities and, for the lack of a better word, a more self-sufficient future than they could ever imagine first off.

The two-year schools main attraction, the Academic Support Center, which is the reason why so many enroll here in the first place, is, indeed, for students of all scholastic skill levels. Not once did I come across one who complained about discriminatory practices or negative stereotypes administered by the otherwise caring and supportive body that truly makes this learning center tick. The experienced tutors, as well as the apprentice-like tutors, act like they have known you since those angst-ridden years you finally came to full terms with your coming of age, which is, in and of itself, no small way of looking at your own meaning of life, albeit in a personal or professional light. Better yet, the tutors can sometimes act like a dogs owner, constantly vying for your encouragement at any random moment of unease and incompetence. There is something fulfilling about this revered student lounge, there is something sacred about this secular shrine, that cant be dismissed by almost any student in the halls of this color barrier-breaking, inner-city academic Mecca.

Almost every time I came here to seek the help I needed in the perplexing arenas of Spanish, biology, and chemistry, there is no way in which I left the center without knowing how much sympathy they had for even my most profound intellectual adversities. I tried to alleviate some mind-numbing, socially discouraging forms of pigeonholing that infect the autistic soul, of the impact it had on MySpace and other self-indulgent online chat rooms, and the reactions the executives of those web pages would have if a robot like me finally bashed out of the closet, and said nothing about my own friends and family, who having perceived certain disabled stereotypes to the point of innate exaggeration never, at bottom, socialized with autistics (which they described as humanoids) for having ignored them, to be most precise, for technically no apparent reason. I thought of autistics as special needs students arriving with no motive other than sheer IQ merit that can knock normal people out of their seats, other normal people who would rather despise them, as I was a special student there, and sat back trying to meditate on their information-asphyxiated brains and relishing at the sometimes abnormal body language of their closest ilk, which I sometimes felt very sorry for.

I, by no means, fitted with that "Rain Man" stereotype pop culture and the wider college frat subculture made it out to be, since I did, later on, happen to communicate with the overwhelming assortment of students and faculty all so present on the small yet culturally multihued campus. It is true, also, that my friends off-campus enforced me to check those chat rooms I mentioned before out, for only to experience some rather routine spamming and hacking in turn. This is not to say that all of them appreciated the strengths of my mild autism, as I still dont know how to smoothly converse with beer-chugging, cocaine-snorting brats, but, as it turns out, they were, nevertheless, astounded at my capability to perform uniquely studious techniques, such as my quick-witted style of creative writing. I didnt drink to the point of sleepless intoxication, as they all proved to me just how emotionally and physically devastating alcohol consumption can really be, to say the very least. So here lies my alienation from the all-important 21st century late teens/early 20s demographic, which, believe it or not, is becoming increasingly amoral and, most unfortunately, free of values and of discipline.

If every one I came to know and value the most at the secularly sacred two-year college posed any anti-establishment measures against the now-popular autistic conscience, it was a needlessly significant rallying cry that really turned out to be nothing more than a Paris Hilton-bashing, "National Enquirer"-style gossip column. For this gossip to be, indeed, truthful, therefore, the entire Housatonic administration would have been completely compliant with a rather disingenuous piece of protest that would not be worth protesting against because autism, just like other mental deficiencies that are now talked out with and to others, is becoming a more socially acceptable medical condition in which future generations may have to cope with, since there is no miracle cure for this otherwise non-sickly illness.

According to a recent report conducted by the Autism Society of America, 1 in 150 are afflicted with some form of autism, but, fortunately, even the most mainstream college communities have finally stepped up to the plate to address the possible causes and effects of what is, in todays increasingly multifaceted world, not literally a disease in any word, shape, or form. It can also be said that (mildly) autistic outsiders like me didnt happen to engulf themselves with so much of the egotistical or self-centered sensibilities that those unaware of their fate happen to, unfortunately, indulge in. This said, the inside academic world, like that of the two-year college I silkily bathed in, was an essential, if not indispensable, life skill for me, as well as for all those who continue to seek their own career paths--without ever resorting to social and cultural insensitivity or insider trading--in the process.

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