Lost at Sea: Asperger’s in college, part 2

By Russ Davis

In the summer of 2011, I worked for Zak Tackle, a now-defunct company that assembled and sold fishing lures. During that summer, I made it a point to always come into work wearing a black cowboy hat (similar to the one that appears in my staff caricature expertly drawn by Danielle Burch). My coworkers asked me if I considered myself a cowboy. I always said that I liked to think I did, but I know I’m not one.

It’d be easy for me to say I’m not a cowboy in the sense that my life doesn’t resemble a scene out of Bonanza, and I don’t heat thick coffee over a campfire every morning. But then again, who still does that in 2014? The best estimate I can gather for how a cowboy lives today is what I get listening to country music.

One of the most popular artists for my generation is Jason Aldean. Listening to him, I gather that modern cowboys get plastered on Michelob and make fools of themselves at parties in the forest. That’s not me. Okay, then. So what other categories might I fall into?

This is something I have to ask myself because one of the challenges facing people with Asperger’s Syndrome –whether they’re children, teenagers, or adults – is finding where in the “puzzle of life” they belong. This means something at UW Tacoma, where there are numerous clubs and organizations dedicated to helping students meet others who fall into similar “niches” – to “fit into the pack,” as one promo tells me. Those who don’t belong in any of these groups can substitute with loud nights at The Swiss or one of Tacoma’s many other watering holes.

Well, I don’t drink alcohol, and the last time I was in a bar, it was rowdy and reminded me of the kinds of places I try to avoid. So that’s out.

I’m a bit of a geek. I tell people that I’m a little like all four of the male main characters on The Big Bang Theory – there’s something about all of them that’s in me. But their lives include things like Star Trek and Dungeons and Dragons. I can’t stomach science fiction, certainly not enough to get into the animated conversations over the genre that Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj regularly have.

People with Asperger’s Syndrome are usually good at technology and science. Surely that will open some doors for me to “fit into the pack.” No. Not a chance. My knowledge of technology goes only slightly beyond being able to play Tetris. No luck there, either.

I’m a writing studies major, and creative writing has always been a strong suit for me. A friend of mine in New York told me that college-age women are suckers for writers. Okay, maybe that’s my niche. It’s mostly untested at this point. But part of me is not sure how to pursue that. When I’ve taken creative writing classes in the past, I’ve found that most creative writers fall into the “hipster” category. I’m not a hipster. I’m not politically liberal enough, and my fashion sense is out of compliance.

This isn’t the exact sequence of considerations facing every college student with Asperger’s, but that’s how it’s gone for me. It often makes me wish that someone would just get on with it and write a manual, “How To Find Your Place In College.” Because one of the components of having Asperger’s is that you can’t learn these things very well on your own.

When I was younger, the analogy I heard most often regarded “boundaries” – invisible but very definite lines that exist in schools, telling you who can associate with who, and warning of serious consequences if you disturb the equilibrium. I end up disturbing that equilibrium all the time – because I don’t know which of those boundaries I have a passport to enter.