I’m not living the kind of life I want to live right now. The kind of life I want(ed) to live was taken away from me, by force, by people who have never met me. All because I don’t fit into their system. It can be traced back to my birth – the day I was born Autistic.
A key piece of information to this story is that I didn’t get my Asperger’s diagnosis until I was 20 years old. Most people get their diagnosis in fairly quick at childhood. Those are usually the people with the more obvious, severe cases of Autism, wherever they are on the spectrum. I was “lucky” in the sense that I’m kind of borderline. I can quite easily pass myself off as someone that isn’t Autistic at all. I prefer to disclose as early as possible because it saves everyone a lot of trouble later on. Being diagnosed at 20 is a big deal because I’m done with education at that point (ignoring uni, but you’ll see why later).
Now, someone even with my relatively low-severity case of Asperger’s can get help through school and college. I didn’t get any at all. We suspected I might have Asperger’s – ever since I was about 17. But because I didn’t have some crappy piece of paper saying I was entitled to help, I couldn’t get any. So, as you might expect, I spent my first two decades at life with a big disadvantage that I couldn’t deal with – because OTHER PEOPLE have to do it FOR YOU. This meant that, even though I stayed on an extra year at college, finishing at the age of 19, I had to do everything to hard way and, surprise surprise, my grades weren’t good at all. I still passed my courses, but I got D’s across the board. I don’t think I even managed a single C.
I didn’t go to university (because even if I wanted to, I didn’t have the grades for it), and that was largely down to me not wanting to. I knew what I wanted to do in life, but couldn’t find any courses related to what I wanted to do.
That thing was something, anything, related to military strategy. Ever since I was less than half my age, I wanted to win wars. I wanted to win battles. I wanted to be that guy, on the back lines, with the map planning formations, tactics, timings, the works. That was the thing I enjoyed the most in life, to the point that I dedicated my entire being to learning everything there was to learn about it. This is the Asperger’s for you. Ever heard of “special interests”? They’re a very common trait in Autistic people. They take an interest in something, and pursue it to the point of obsession, to the exclusion of all else. That includes eating, drinking and sleeping. Concentration levels go through the roof, and we become living encyclopaedias on our chosen topic. In secondary school, while my peers were talking about useless crap like who won X-Factor this time around, all I was thinking about, 24/7, was how to win wars.
So, it goes without saying that this is what I wanted to do with my adult life. In a turn of what seems like stupidity to the untrained observer, I chose to stay as far away from the army as possible. I have reasons for that, but they’re not relevant, so I won’t go into them here. Just know that joining the army like any regular foot soldier was not an option.
Not seeing any university courses to aspire to get into, I didn’t study too hard for my A-levels. This suited me best, as I was struggling too much to have any chance of getting the A’s I’d be in need of anyway.
Fast forward 3 years and I’m jobless, at a course to help me get a job. By this point, I’m diagnoses with my Asperger’s, which was how I got onto this course to get me a job. I decided to look into uni again (though I was mostly forced to) and found a course by proxy of looking for a job. There was a recruitment program being run by GCHQ, the national security body and it sounded exactly like something I’d excel in. Problem was, it only accepted people with one or more of 5 listed degrees. I picked the one most easy to get into and visited the university to enquire about it. They even gave me an offer, lowering the required grades by 1 each, from AAB to BBC. With help that I could now, get, having been diagnosed, this was achievable! Yay!
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
To get those grades of BBC, it meant doing my A-levels again. I was 100% okay with this. They said it could be any subject of my choosing, as this course (counter-terrorism!!!) was so specific that there were no subjects like it you could take at A-level. So, I went back looking at my previous colleges and any others that might take me on.
This is where the hypocrisy of Autism support services come in. We started with my original college. Partly because I knew what subjects they offered, partly because they were close to home, and partly because with my prior knowledge, re-taking them shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I was refused a place. Why? Because I wasn’t eligible for support. The reason I wasn’t eligible for support was because I already had A-levels. Ones I’d earned BEFORE my diagnosis, when I wasn’t allowed to get the help I needed because my Autism wasn’t “official” enough. Apparently, being diagnosed after getting a qualification means you’re disqualified from taking it again with the help you should have had the first time round.
Me already having A-levels meant that the college couldn’t get funding for my support. So they wouldn’t offer it, unless I payed for it myself. Including the course itself. I had to pay for the course because I was over 19, the maximum “normal” college age. What was the college charging for these, you ask?
£3,000 per course, per year. I’d need to do 3 courses, so that meant £6k per course, so £18,000. Out of my own pocket. I only just have more than that much in the bank now, and that’s after working for almost 3 years and very rarely spending any money at all. I couldn’t take out a loan for these either, because they were at college level and not university.
There’s a word for all this. You know what that word is? I call it BULLSHIT.
In light of all this, I went back to the university. We asked what we should do, explaining the situation. You know what they did? The worst thing possible. They withdrew their offer on the grounds that if the college(s) were not willing to give me a place, then I’d be a liability at the university and therefore shouldn’t be offered a place. There, right there, I had my lifelong dream torn to shreds right in front of me. These people had never met me, they had never seen what I’m actually capable of. Yet, among them, they were able to take one person’s aspirations and deny them, as if they were somehow the authority on the matter. Meanwhile, the very person they were denying had absolutely no say throughout the whole thing. Let’s bullet point the chronology shall we?
- I went to college, from 16 – 19. I struggled, like I did at school. I barely passed my exams, but came out with some A-levels.
- I got diagnosed with Asperger’s at 20 years old. Remember, this is something you’re born with.
- I wanted to go to uni, and was given a chance. There was a faint glimmer of hope.
- I had to go to college again. I didn’t qualify for support because I already had A-levels I’d taken before my diagnosis. A diagnosis of a LIFELONG CONDITION.
- I’d have to pay for my courses. This meant I couldn’t afford to take them, or would end up £18k in debt to do so.
- The university withdrew their offer. Had they not, I’d still need to pay £27k for tuition, which means EVEN MORE DEBT. This is before the university tuition prices went up. Remember that? The thing the coalition government promised they wouldn’t do?
- So the end result of this would probably be me having to pay approx £50k in tuition fees off. About 50% more than the average person. All because I was diagnosed as an adult.
You smell that? I do to. The unmistakable smell of BULLSHIT.
Take note, dear reader. In that chronology, at which point did I have any input in the process at all? As the person who would be doing the courses, as the person who would have to pay for it all, as the person whose life this would shape, what choice was I given? Absolutely none. None at all.
To think people wonder why I’m such a dark, bitter, and angry person on the inside… Is it really that much of a surprise? Really now? Do you seriously, honestly believe I can just accept that as “one of things things” or “not everyone gets things their way all the time”. No, of course I can’t. This was my life goals we’re talking about.
It’s stories like this that make me say the following; “Pessimism is a learned behaviour.”