Kala Allen Omeiza

@kalaallen | contributor
I'm autistic, an Oxford grad and a Fulbright alumn. I live with my husband in England. During my free time I love to read, run and write. My first novel "Afrotistic" is available from April 2nd 2022 on amazon. I hope to be a representation to other black and autistic youths of color that I never had to opportunity to have. I hope to show other autistic people and caregivers that the sky is the limit.
Kala Allen Omeiza

Why Neurodiversity Inclusion at Universities Benefits Everyone

My whole life, I always knew I learned differently than most others. I never thought it was bad, just different. I couldn’t study in bright, loud or busy areas, for example, and I knew I could never work in such environments. For months I suspected I was autistic. Getting diagnosed with autism included a five-hour assessment priced at about $100 of total insurance co-payments. Once in grad school, I then had to send my diagnosis to the Disability Services Center here at University of Oxford. I hadn’t disclosed a disability until after term started, so it took about a week or so for the Disability Service to process my request. Once approved, I had an in-person meeting with the service to see how they could best meet my needs. The services were amazingly accommodating and helpful. I informed them of one of my most frustrating classes, where our professor barely engaged and instead let us students lead our class topic. None of us were prepared for the topic prior to the meeting, and I was unable to tell which of my classmates were saying something accurate and which ones were not. I was unable to take accurate notes because of this. Our professor would occasionally nod and go “Oh, interesting” in various tones. It seemed like everyone was able to discern “interesting” as correct, while “interesting!” was incorrect. Or vice versa. I wasn’t sure. After sharing this experience at my Disability Service meeting, I was able to receive a note-taker for some of my classes, and I was even allowed extra time on examinations. I also had the opportunity to be provided with a mentor who would help me improve my study skills, and help me with learning tonal and non-verbal language interpretation for the term. I felt lucky and relieved to have that support. I doubt I would’ve graduated without it. But I can’t help thinking that, like so many autistic Black women, I graduated undergrad without knowing I was autistic, and therefore without the help and support of disability services. In the frustrating class, it was hard not to look around me and wonder if any of my classmates were struggling too. Did they actually need assistance but weren’t able to receive it because they weren’t diagnosed with autism or a learning disability? If so, is it really that hard for profs to just simply say “correct” or “incorrect”? My above reflection is just one mirror on how students with disabilities such as autism can struggle in an academic setting. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the developmental disability prevalence in the US is 16%. These developmental disabilities include autism, ADHD, blindness and various other conditions. While disability condition diagnoses make up a significant portion of the workforce, having an inclusive academic environment can be beneficial to not only the intended demographic, but the community at large. While making sufficient academic working conditions conducive for neurodiverse and other communities with disabilities is still underway in several university settings, some universities and other colleges are forging a new path beyond the minimum of providing reasonable accommodation.  The University of Bath in the United Kingdom created an Inclusive Universities Project to conduct focus groups for students with autism to ultimately raise awareness and develop support networks for those with various disabilities and mental health conditions. Some elite business schools around the world have also taken part in the inclusion wave. HEC Paris Business School, Ivey Business School in Canada, and London School of Economics in the United Kingdom have all included recruitment and retainment schemes for those with autism and other neurodiverse conditions. For example, London School of Economics does not penalize spelling and grammar mistakes for neurodiverse students, and allows for 25 minutes of extra time on examinations. HEC Paris currently allows their dyslexic students to request materials on more readable and orientation-centered colored paper. While this is considerable progress, it is imperative that more universities, colleges and their departments emulate inclusive practices as well as create and iterate on better working environments for their students. Current barriers often hinder members of certain communities from receiving official diagnoses. An example of a disability that may have barriers to access a diagnosis is autism. Autism is a developmental disability that affects social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication. While 1 in 54 youth are diagnosed with autism, diagnosis is four times more common in males than in females — although there is no proof that females have lower rates of autism. Differences in presentation are one reason for this contrast in diagnosis. Even more strikingly, while autism prevalence affects all communities equally, the CDC notes that racial and ethnic minority groups receive a diagnosis significantly less often than their white counterparts. While there are disparities like the above in the U.S. and other Western nations, they are exacerbated in the developing world, where nearly all neurodiverse youth go undiagnosed. My friend and neighbor from my Fulbright endeavor and soon-to-be future classmate, Boluwatife Ikwunne, MD, has the following to say about the lack of autism diagnosis among Nigerians — the largest African demographic to study abroad in the United States. “In Nigeria, autism is often undiagnosed and left unmanaged. This is largely due to poor awareness, a lack of screening tools and unavailable/inaccessible supportive facilities.  A national policy on neurodevelopmental disorders does not exist, meaning that neurodiverse students do not have access to reasonable accommodation facilities or other inclusive measures to aid learning and improve their quality of life.” –Boluwatife Ikwunne, MD/Rhodes Scholar-elect It is clear that universities and colleges need to reflect on the ethnic, racial, gender, and various cultural differences to conclude that simple, low-cost accommodation is the best for undiagnosed students. Without it, many students, especially diverse and international students as Dr. Ikwunne mentioned, may not be able to receive accommodation for a disability simply because they aren’t aware that said disability exists. Presently, one needs an official diagnosis for most disabilities to receive accommodation in academic settings. Often, this approach is used to ensure that students are discouraged from taking advantage of certain accommodations that are necessary for some with disabilities. Receiving extra time on a test when it is unnecessary is an example of such. However, one should consider if autism and similar diagnoses are inaccessible for some communities due to factors such as stigma, cost and time constraints. Given such barriers of access, there are several possible ways universities can accommodate their students with minimal effort and financial cost. It is no secret that most student centers contain large rooms often filled with lots of loud voices and other stimuli that may be overwhelming. In stark contrast, the quieter rooms in such centers are often reserved for studying, with minimal engagement allotted between students. The Neurodiversity Hub states that engaging with students, speaking explicitly, including tailored support services, and limiting the use of bright lights, loud noises, and open-floor planning are simple examples of enabling an inclusive work environment. Creating a diverse array of social and study environments for all personalities and neurotypes in student centers would enable a great first step in being more inclusive. Taken together, academic environments should not solely rely on an official diagnosis to be accommodating in such settings. This is important because environments that are not conducive to a student’s neurotype, health or personality can be detrimental to their stress level or mental health. On top of a new life event such as beginning a new school, declaring a major, moving away from home or away from most previous high school classmates, can all lead to social isolation as well as to serious mental illnesses such as severe depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Exacerbated by the pandemic, social isolation and loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with results that could be catastrophic for a student’s well-being for years to come. In blunt terms, neglecting feasible accommodation could wreak havoc on a student’s academic output, and most importantly, on their well-being for life. Additionally, while not accommodating those with unique needs (or waiting for a formal request to do so) can be detrimental, accommodating these needs can have a positive impact on all. An infamous example is the invention of SMS texts. Finnish inventors  Matti Makkonen et al., originally invented SMS texting to be an alternative to voice conversations for deaf individuals. The use of SMS texting is now ubiquitous as it proved to be efficient for both personal and professional use while also saving their intended company ample bandwidth. Ramps, elevators, and automatic doors are additional classic examples of accommodation to the minority that led to prosperity and convenience for the majority. It’s evident that inclusive school settings lessen stress and decrease extreme mental health challenges. Accommodating those with diverse needs can also have a greater impact on the entire University community at large. A diverse and broad environment that can both incorporate and inspire those with unique needs and personalities can be beneficial to all students. It is time our universities and colleges accommodate diverse needs, and it is time all of us advocate for every community. We can advocate by listening to and creating a platform for those in minority and/or disabled communities to communicate their needs and demands for organizations to implement willingly. Here at Oxford, we have a very accepted Student Disability Committee as part of the Student Union, which spearheads inclusion initiatives while also supporting fellow students through various Facebook groups such as for autistic students at Oxford. We can also use discernment while consuming in order to support companies whose employees feel included and heard in their work environment. All of these small steps can enable a more inclusive and as a result dynamic scholastic environment for neurodiverse and disabled students. To conclude, it may not be necessary to wait for official permission or an urgent need to accommodate those with disabilities. Like administrators simply requesting my aforementioned professor to be more direct for all my classmates, accommodating individuals with various needs is often simple to do. The positive effects on the university community, and ultimately the well-being of their students, can be vast.

Peri Savidge

Being a Nonverbal Child With Autism

I was not fully verbal until I was 10 years old. I said my first word at 6 years old, but stopped saying much else until I was 10. I can still remember my time being nonverbal and preverbal very clearly. I remember the pure frustration and isolation I felt not just around me but within myself as well. I feel like I need to give the people who are still struggling with their voices a voice, and give the public insight as to what they may be going through by sharing my experiences of when I was nonverbal. My brain: “You’re hungry, you need to ask for some food.” Me: … My brain: “Come on, just say ‘Dad, I’m hungry.’ He’s right over there.” Me: … My brain: “Come on, that’s it, walk up to him.” Me: “Aaaaaaruuuaaaa!” Falls in front of dad and begins to scream. My brain: “Oh here we go again, you know what you want, why can’t you just say it?” Me: full blown meltdown “Aaaaaaa! Noooooo! Aaaaaaaaaah!” My brain: “You did this the other day when you were in pain, but couldn’t tell your siblings so you just screamed, cried and were aggressive. Look, he’s asking if you want food, you just need to nod.” Me: “Aaaaaaghhhhaaa! Hmmmmmm!” Loud humming. My brain: “Too far gone, I suppose.” This is how most days went when I needed something like food. I knew exactly what the problem was, but was unable to express my wants, needs or feelings, which resulted in frustration and meltdowns. I remember my younger sister made me play Barbies with her. She was of course making the Barbie speak with mine, but got annoyed because I was not making it talk. She was too young to understand I was not doing this on purpose, and despite not being able to speak, I was making the doll communicate — even if the things I was making it do might seem odd. I would undress the dolls, as my sister would often say it was a hot day in the world of Barbies. I would make the doll jump around happily, or I would move it wildly if it was suppose to be feeling a negative feeling. I would find this activity hard to join in — not only did it involve imaginative play, which I found really hard, but it also involved a lot of interactions using speech. Many kids, including my sister, are brought up to only listen with their ears and to focus on the voice as a means of communication and interaction. I also remember every time my older sister, whom I was very close to, would tell me she loved me. I would just seem oblivious to her and the world around me, until one day when I gained my voice I said “I love you too.” She cried so much — happy tears, I’m sure. In a typical family it may be a simple thing to say “I love you” and to get it back, but when there’s someone with autism in your household, that may change. Sometimes you have to listen to us with more than your ears. I was confused for a long time — why was she so shocked and happy that she cried tears just because I said something I have been showing her all along? Didn’t she notice when she came in the room I would jump about, make happy noises and flap my hands? Did she see the way I always wanted to be held by her and how I would stock her school bag with all my favorite toys and foods? As I have grown I have come to realize she probably knew I loved her back and that actions speak louder than words, but when someone is starved of something like my family was starved of my voice for so long, they dream of it; they need it to confirm things. When I said I loved her I was not just telling her I loved her, I was letting her into my world. I was connecting to her in a way which took everything in me. The words were the part that meant the least; it was about the actions and the wait behind it. Me: “Eh oh, Eh oh, time tubbie byes byes tubbie byes byes eh oh, eh oh.” Imitating Teletubbies. Doctors: “It seems like she can speak fine, and is just being lazy with requests.” Doctors: “What did you do at school today?” My brain: “You did some drawings and some math.Then you played outside and read a story. So come on, tell him.” Me: “Eh oh eh oh, we can fix it,” — a mix of “Teletubbies” and “Bob the Builder.” My brain: “Peri, come on, if you can say that, why can’t you say your own words?” Doctor: “Peri? What did you do at school today? Did you do some drawings? Me: Nods. Doctor: “What did you draw?” Me: … Doctor: “Peri?” Me: Aaaaarghhhhaaaa! My brain: “Oh boy…” I would script a lot, but often people would think just because I could script, I could speak my own words too. But this was wrong, as I was pretty much just being a parrot, repeating the words I had heard in the exact same voice and the exact same way. This is what I call being “pre-verbal.” After a meltdown I would often lay on my sibling’s lap or parents’ while they stroked my hair and talked about how they wished they could see what was going on in that head of mine. Oh how I wanted to tell them. Oh, how badly I wanted to scream from the rooftops who I truly was, because there was so much more than just this silent girl. There was so much more than met the eyes. I had amazing stories to tell — stories that had never been heard before, stories that would change the world. Stories that would likely be trapped in my head forever. If I had the chance to express my feelings to my loved ones back then; if I had a chance to tell them everything I so badly wanted to say, I think it would have gone like this: Please don’t cry. I know you are scared for me. I know you feel my frustration. I know you just want to hear my voice say those four little words — “I love you too.” I know you want me to be like other kids, chatting about our favorite movies and weekend plans. But please don’t cry, because when you cry it makes me feel like I have failed. It makes me feel like I’m failing at the one thing that could finally connect me with you. I sing a million songs and dance to my own melody, but my songs are just too precious and delicate to be heard by the world. They are too sensitive to be heard by ears. But if you just breathe in and dance with me, spin around with me, you can almost hear my song — quieter than silence but even more beautiful. Maybe one day I will be able to make my songs loud enough for the world to hear, but if not that’s OK, because I don’t need to speak to communicate with you. On some days I may act like I have no idea what you’re on about, but I understand every word. I’m just so tired, trying to connect with you — trying so hard with your speech regimes and endless word card games. I’m trying so hard, but I’m tired, so please listen to my songs. Come real close because they are just for you. Talking can be for anybody — anyone can talk to anyone — but you see, these silent songs are just for you, because I love you. The only way I can express my pain is to scream and cry; it’s like my voice is in a prison made of titanium bars. It can’t get out and maybe it never will. Maybe St. Jude has my voice — the patron saint of lost causes, because that’s what the doctors call me, right? I can’t express to you what I’m going through, but please don’t give up on me. Talk to me, play with me, give me patience. Don’t cry, don’t get angry — I’m trying. I know you love me and one day I will speak to you, even if it’s not with my voice. Until then, we will be all right. I did eventually speak and I’m thankful for that, but really I’m more thankful for finding and improving my ways to communicate. Speaking and communication are not the same thing. You can speak without communicating, and you can communicate without speaking. Writing will always be my first way of communicating as I feel like without writing I would not be able to express myself like I’m doing today. Writing is much more than a hobby, interest or love… it’s my voice, my only voice. To me, a voice does not need to make a sound — it just needs to be able to express feelings, and tell a billion stories. That is what my writing does for me and without it I would be lost. Of course my vocal voice is helpful when telling someone I’m hungry or that I hurt, or to fulfill simple requests and demands. But it is not my “voice.” It does not show everyone the real Peri. This journey has helped me to realize that all those years ago I wasn’t striving to speak, I was striving to communicate — to connect with the world. Here I am.

Kala Allen Omeiza

Finding Bliss as an Autistic Black Girl: I Matter Too

I wasn’t smiling for much of my time at university. Last week I was tasked to give back to the Black community after winning an alumni award at my undergrad university. Already several years out, I reflected on my experience during my time there. I struggled to attend many events because they often felt too noisy, crowded or bright. I faltered in minor chit chat during the few events I did attend. At the time, I didn’t know I was autistic, but I knew I was different. I hid my budding afro and masked my real identity. It took a while for me to find my footing, but when I did, it was bliss. Years later, I finally received a referral and a diagnosis, and I joined various groups of people like me. I was accepted into other prestigious universities and fellowships before I was diagnosed, but had a wonderful time living them out due to my own self-awareness after the diagnosis. I made friends all around the world, learned so much about myself and the world around me through novels and traveling, and — of course — grew my afro. I’m happy that most autistic social groups accept those without a formal diagnosis, with the hope that people like undergrad me could find them and experience bliss much earlier. However, while discovering myself as an adult, I often misread the room and spoke of intersectionality in Black communities with disabilities. I did this when I was supposed to speak of just Black communities — as if autistic doesn’t exist with Black. With rain, often, comes a rainbow, and all of my temporary rains were all it took to create mine. With the joy of my authentic self, I finally drafted the following as a campaign to my undergraduate university: We Matter, Too When you think of Homecoming and High Street, corners, panic attacks, and isolation aren’t usually words that come to mind. These words were my reality, however, and after receiving feedback on a blog post from other autistic young adults, I know I’m not alone. Balancing a Black student identity on a campus like Miami can be full of challenge, excitement and can even create amazing lifelong friendships. On the other hand, students with intersectional identities such as disability or mental illnesses may take longer to find their niche. It’s time we create a campaign to bring out the voices in our communities who may not feel as included in their minority group on campus. Through your essays and artistic submissions, let’s build a platform for all of us to connect and seek ways of how we can better unite and stand for all BIPOC at Miami more than ever before. I hope other universities (and even middle schools and high schools!) will implement similar campaigns. I hope this campaign can enable just one more autistic (diagnosed or not) Black girl to read about herself and feel seen. My voice may feel soft and thin, but my afro is coarse and thick. Because of “We matter, too,” I hope even just one more autistic Black girl will smile during university.

Dear Professor: My ADHD and Autism Empower Me

Dear Former Professor, This will seem really out-of-the-blue, though I think it’s worth sharing. When I was a senior at college, you kindly encouraged me to apply to a specific prestigious Ph.D. program (to possibly work with a colleague of yours) and offered to write a strong recommendation letter. Months later, we spoke, and you shared the insight (obtained through the backchannels) that my GRE scores were not competitive enough. I knew my scores were not related to any lack of study, knowledge and hard work, so I didn’t bother to try for better scores. In fact, my average and sometimes sub-par scores aligned with an existing pattern. As an incoming freshman, I was fully aware that my SAT/ACT scores sat within the 25th percentile as compared to my classmates, which weighed on my sense of belonging. In middle school, my standardized test scores impeded the opportunity to take a foreign language; I was instead placed in an entry-level reading class with a teacher who was puzzled as to how I ended up there. Even in elementary school, my standardized test scores, out of context, would have prevented me from taking challenging science classes. Luckily, my teacher knew me very well and advised my parents to place me in appropriately competitive science courses anyway. What nobody knew then, and what I now know, is that I’m ADHD and quite likely autistic. In other words, I have a learning disability. To this day, I struggle with comprehending complex, new, written or spoken language under pressure; I need silence and time. Yet, most who have worked with me, inside and outside of the classroom, consider me valuable in ways that are still difficult for me to fathom. The funny thing is, now that I understand myself better, I absolutely credit my ADHD and autism for helping me earn my place at a competitive college, for sustaining my perseverance and creativity in completing a Ph.D., and for the perspectives I brought to my postdoctoral and to my current appointment in the advancement of teaching and learning. I don’t learn or work in the same way that many others do; my alternate approach has its challenges and assets. I notice a different set of details, sometimes in greater intensity; perhaps this partially explains the dichotomy of my cognitive load across different environments. It is a relief to finally feel comfortable being myself, and I am grateful to be in a career track where my unconventional style is welcomed. I wanted to share this with you, first, because you were one of the few impactful educators that made me feel seen. Second, to affirm that your views and actions with your students, staff, and faculty make a difference. This is especially true for a campus leader during this critical time of embracing inclusivity in all of its forms, including disability and mental health social justice. I am confident that when it’s time for my fourth grader to attend higher education, that he will shine in the areas of his passions, just like his mom. And third, as a scientist, I thought you might appreciate another spin on the spectra of complex development. Unique brains bring unique talents to the world. Luckily for the world, the human brain can develop in infinite ways. Gratefully, Your Former Student

Kala Allen Omeiza

Getting an Adult Autism Diagnosis as an African American Woman

At 24 and a half years old, I’ve been officially diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder or ASD. I get to join the ranks of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Mozart, Susan Boyle, Bill Gates (presumably) and more. Can I say I’m surprised? A little. But I decided it would be best to talk about it now, as it may play a crucial role in my social and academic life in Nigeria for the Fulbright fellowship and at University of Oxford for graduate school. I had originally deleted a similar post out of shame and fear that the wrong people might find it, but as I got to know and love myself a little more over the past few months, I realized how little that actually matters. I am proud of the person I am today and the obstacles I have overcome with this disability — and I hope to spread awareness and understanding to others. Besides, I would also love to inspire other future Fulbrighters with disabilities to apply! Additionally, although everyone on the spectrum is different, I thought it might be useful to share some of my experiences and behaviors I’ve picked up about myself in hindsight. The tests I had originally decided to get tested for autism after doing several online screenings. I had my therapist do a short professional screening, and she discovered (not me — I knew) that I had a strong aversion to loud sounds, bright lights, and wearing certain fabric of clothing (jeans and leggings are the absolute worst, for example!) I then went to a specialist and underwent a battery of neuropsychological evaluations for a total of five hours over a span of two sessions. The evaluations tested my verbal and nonverbal reasoning, processing speed, and a few other mental health screenings that tested for depression, schizophrenia, anxiety and more. My parents were also interviewed to see what I was like as a child. I scored mostly average to slightly above average on the majority of the tests. I also definitely have anxiety according to the BECK screening, which was completely unsurprising. Additionally, I scored well below average in the social and nonverbal reasoning aspects of the test, but what surprised me is that it turns out my processing speed is incredibly below average. This means I’m simply not as “quick” as most people. I’ve noticed this in social settings as I have a hard time keeping up with the pace of conversations, and I often end up not saying anything at all as a result. It’s also been a big problem for me in tests, although I just assumed everyone struggled to finish their tests on time. It might be why I’m not doing so well on the math section of the GRE. These days, autism is rated as mild, moderate or severe, with mild being the part of the spectrum that used to be called Asperger’s. To my surprise, my rating is considered moderate. Given how “normal” I sometimes appear to others, it means that I unfortunately do an impressive job of masking my condition in social situations. However, the examiner said since I am able to live and work on my own, I should consider myself to have mild autism. My social life The report said my social affect is very flat, meaning I often have a blank stare and do not utilize the extent of my vocabulary when talking. My parents had also told the administrator I sometimes had a hard time picking up on mood changes when growing up, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if I still do now. I also have a very rigid social life. For now, it means that I join meetup groups in my select interests (Bible study, running clubs and book clubs) and very rarely deviate outside of that friend group. I have a pretty easy time making friends, but struggle to keep them. This has gone on since middle school, but I starkly remember horrible altercations I’ve had with friends, roommates, and teammates in college and in my early 20s. What this means for me Once again, everyone on the spectrum is different. But I wanted to highlight some of my experiences that are congruent with traits of people with autism: 1. I am more likely to be isolated by my peer group. All my life I have felt different and awkward. I’ve never belonged in a clique or had a genuine group of friends growing up that lasted longer than a couple months. Of course, a lot of that may have simply been attributed to growing up in a military family, where being a tall black kid in Japan and moving every two years made things more difficult compared to other children. Nevertheless, in school, my main focus in life was track and field, and as an adult, my main focus has been on my research and career. I’ve been blessed to be very talented in both of those aspects of my life, but I admit it is sometimes at the expense of forming and keeping friends. I still crave friendships and intimacy, but I have noticed others can often sense the “different-ness” in me, and distance themselves no matter how hard I try to act “normal.” However, it never stopped me from continuing to try. Recently I’ve joined several meetup groups and forced my introverted self to attend events in an attempt to practice my social skills, this time not to mask my symptoms, but to embrace them and be my authentic self. The results have fortunately been much better and I can finally say I am forming friendships I believe will actually last a lifetime. 2. I am more likely to be sexually and emotionally abused. There have been several articles written about the bullying and isolation of people with autism, and as the “me too” movement has gained traction, so have the studies about the disproportionately high rates of sexual assault in the ASD community. Yet this isn’t news to predators. Predators are able to pinpoint the most vulnerable children, teens or adults, who for whatever reason have a hard time feeling comfortable in their own bodies and are less likely to stand up for themselves and speak out effectively. For example, some adults on the spectrum often resort to misplaced anger at others when trying to communicate feelings of real traumatic events — often scaring away the listener and making the survivor more at risk of victim blaming and other harmful tactics. 3. I probably hate going to your party or event, but I love being invited. This hasn’t been an issue for me for the longest time, as I have simply not been invited to many events hosted by members of my peer groups. However, as I have been recently forming lasting friendships, I’ve been invited to significantly more parties and gatherings. I look at my younger siblings and notice that going to these events along with one-on-one interaction are the key to maintaining friendships, but I must admit, parties are hard. The music, laughter and conversations are way too loud, the lights are too bright (and don’t even get me started on the dreaded strobe lights!) and no matter how much I run the itinerary and guest-list with the host, there is always a change of plans or people at the event. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love being invited these days, as the pain from being shunned and left out in the past is fresh in my mind. Yet it is something that I will have to get used to, and I am fully aware that the stimuli is only going to be worse at events in Nigeria, so I might as well start to get used to it now. 4. Love me or hate me, I won’t have a clue. This one has taken some deep reflection on my personal life and past friendships. I’m beginning to understand that not everyone in my life is my friend or good acquaintance. For the longest time, I’ve assumed that after meeting somebody once, we were on friendship terms. I would “ride hard” for people who wouldn’t do the same for me, and it would often stab me in the back when I need them most. Additionally, I noticed the trend to “ghost” or block people these days, without providing any explanation for why you’re leaving that person’s life. It’s extremely confusing to me and it would often take me months to realize that the person no longer wants to speak with me or simply doesn’t have time. When dealing with individuals with autism, it is best to be upfront about why you’re upset with somebody, or why you feel you no longer want to communicate with them. Alternatively, it is extremely difficult for me to figure out if someone likes me or is even flirting with me. Again, it is best to be straightforward with this. I’ve noticed that being invited to events and being pulled aside to talk one-on-one often clues me in, but only sometimes, because I still often guess wrong. 5. I don’t need you to accept me, but it would be nice if you would. Only a few months ago I was desperate for the approval and acceptance of others. All my life I’ve subconsciously mirrored other’s behaviors in an attempt to appear “normal” and more like them. However, as I continue to learn and grow, I realize I am only harming myself by doing so. I haven’t been taking the time to polish my unique talents. It wasn’t until very recently when I decided to truly stop caring about what people think of me and just be myself in every situation. Nonetheless, as a verbal individual on the spectrum, I do feel it is my responsibility to spread awareness about autism to others and stand up for people who may not otherwise have a voice. In my experience, some therapists and aspiring clinicians are absolutely horrible in detecting and treating autism in adult women, and I hope to change that on my journey as a friend and through academia. For example, last month I gathered my friends and family to join me in a national walk to spread awareness for people with autism. We were able to raise over $400 for individuals and families with autism, and I was able to communicate more about myself with those closest to me. I also founded a group for adult women and minorities on the spectrum in order for us to support each other in various ways. It feels good to do my part to spread awareness and support others, and I hope you will consider doing the same. What’s next The administrator mentioned that it may be useful for me to get special accommodation on tests at Oxford and my next school due to my anxiety and processing speed results. This will be a very interesting change, as I won’t have to take tests in a certain time limit or have nearly as many distractions as I’ve had in the past. It makes me wonder how I was able to solidify a high GPA in college, be an elite athlete, secure kick ass jobs and get into the best university and fellowship in the world; it’s truly a blessing and the sky’s now the limit for what I can do now with an even playing field! It also explains why applying to places has been my “thing” lately. It’s competitive and I love it. People with autism usually have a special interest in something, and this must be mine. This application cycle I’ll be applying to the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, Stanford’s Knight-Hennesy fellowship and grad school applications. This new “thing” of mine will come in handy as I progress more into my career as an aspiring University President, as applying to grants and such will be routine. As an African American woman, I can fully attest to the research that claims late diagnosis is common in women, and even more common in African Americans. This is unfortunate because early intervention is the key to living a healthy and fulfilling life. Being diagnosed as an adult will come with a lot of challenges, but it has also already come with a lot of clarity. I find I’m able to understand myself better, and be kinder to myself when I struggle with minor social situations. I’m hoping the future will continue to bring more clarity and self-compassion.