College life on the spectrum

Tarleton ODIIP presents the Spectrum Social

When people talk about autism we often hear them say it is a different ability rather than a disability as they more commonly talk about or around the person while rarely actually treating them as a person. Some people hear ‘autism’ and assume people affected always have terrible experiences with people and cannot live normally. However, if about 1 in 5 people live with mental illness and 1 and 44 live with autism, according to the CDC, what exactly is considered normal? 

The spectrum social, an event set up by the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and International programs (ODIIP) and proposed by senior wildlife biology major George Reisinger, gave students on the spectrum a chance to voice their experiences. The event took place on Apr. 20 and was a social mixer for Autistic Texans and their allies. TSC 15 was filled with snacks, memes, and music that were written by and for people with autism.

“I hate the service industry… I often feel as though my feelings are being invalidated when I tell people that my workplace is toxic,” senior E-Sports team manager Josh Pham laments. “I work extremely hard 30-40 hours a week, in the middle of a pandemic while doing over 5-6 hours of college and high school work yet people still do not think I am doing enough.”

There is still a high amount of discrimination towards people on the spectrum in the workforce while finding a job is a task that is difficult for everyone. When the workforce is not set up to accommodate your needs the problem that we face now persists. National data states that most autistic adults are underemployed despite having the skill sets and expertise to excel. Since expectations are low; few schools or families expect adults on the spectrum to find satisfying careers, additionally, most workplace programs developed for adults with disabilities were designed for people with intellectual or physical disabilities while autism is neither. 

“Basing my career on my special interest, getting excited, being proactive, and applying for colleges based on my special interest, my special interest changes,” a meme shared by Reisinger.

Which displayed how challenging finding a niche, career, or college major is for students on the spectrum. 75 to 95 percent of people with autism have special or preferred interests and a vast majority of the time they are discouraged in school, according to and Many people like Autumn Van Kirk, a leader in a top global tech company in Houston, have used their special interest to propel their careers, like librarians, TV producers, tattoo artists, train conductors and paleontologists. 

“I love how the internet has helped people connect with people around the world with their interest. I have met most of my friends who also share similar identities online, ” shares student specialist for the ODIIP Emily VanKirk. 

Social media has helped to give people on the spectrum the opportunity to socialize with people with similar interests in an easier way. Many autistic people want to socialize and want to form a community however oftentimes social settings tend to be confusing, overwhelming, and not very sensory friendly. Therefore, on social media we can interact without the added stress of an overwhelming environment. 

The first spectrum social broadcasted the feelings of autistic students as well as their allies. Showcased how discrimination and their diagnosis has affected them, the need for communication that does not involve infantilizing or patronizing these students. The ODIIP has stated that for students who want to advocate for themselves and others, the office is always open for suggestions. Currently, as a suggestion from Reisinger, there is a sensory room located in the wellness center for those who need such services.