Autism Unveiled Week 2
“Who Am I?”
“How is Autism Part of Me?”
When I look around me, I see masks where others see emotion. When I listen, I hear only what is said when others hear what is meant. I was born with a disorder classified as Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. Today, society at large is becoming increasingly aware that the limitations of those with Asperger’s are mostly in the social realm, but this was not always the case. Growing up, I had long odds against me more times than I care to remember, and I have beaten them all.
I do now know when my peers and the adults in my life began noticing there was something different about me, but the first time I received a diagnosis was in third grade. Although Asperger’s had been discovered by its namesake in 1944 Austria, it was not until the mid-1990’s that it was recognized in the United States. Hence, I was initially misdiagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a mistake that was not corrected until sixth grade. At the time, I neither noticed nor cared. It was around this time also that a powerful work ethic awoke within me. After that, regardless of what people labeled me, I always tried to do my work to the best of my ability, more often than not matching or besting my “normal” counterparts in this regard, much to the surprise of those who expected otherwise. Since this strategy has worked so well thus far, I intend to continue to employ it to the maximum.
In the eighth grade, I allowed myself to be a subject in an Asperger’s research study investigating family history and the role of genetics in autism. Concerned about my future, my parents discussed my prognosis and other issues with the medical experts in the autism field who were conducting the study. While admitting that the research was in its infancy, the doctors told my parents that most people with Asperger’s do not fare very well in college. As such, the odds were stacked against my collegiate success before I even entered high school. Fortunately, my parents did not pass along this pessimistic forecast to me, so I just kept on succeeding.
The high-school era results of this drive speak for themselves. I was invited to join the National Honor Society, graduated in the top tenth of my class and was one of only nine seniors to be named a Rotary Student of the Month. Far from simply having names drawn out of a hat at random, Students of the Month are chosen by the faculty for demonstrating outstanding performance in academics, service, leadership and character. And to top it off, out of the 12 high school semesters, there was only one when I was not on either the honor roll or the high honor roll. (If I could have typed then as fast as I do now, I would have been on the honor roll all 12 semesters!)
When I began applying to colleges, I learned that all the awards and respect I had earned in high school didn’t matter to some Admissions Offices. Friends I had academically outpaced were recognized for their awards and talents by a few of the same institutions that saw me as autistic and a potential embarrassment. Fortunately, several colleges were willing to risk admitting me (as a “provisional” student.) Once on the college campus, I continued to do my best and beat those long odds as readily as I had done in high school. Thus far, I have earned four Dean’s Lists, numerous scholarships and awards, and most importantly, respect for both me as an individual and those like me with Asperger’s who will follow after me.
Asperger’s Syndrome masks the emotions of others to me, just as the very word “autistic” conceals who I am and what I am capable of achieving. I have faced adversity in my life, and I am prepared to face more. After all, to paraphrase the great Roman poet, Horace, “good fortune conceals the true essence of a person, while adversity reveals it.”
Troy Crumrine, Pennsylvania
Father’s note: This is the essay that my oldest son, Troy D. Crumrine, wrote in 2007 as he was beginning to apply to Law Schools across Pennsylvania to fulfill the application requirement to write an essay that ”describes how you have overcome a difficulty.” Of the six Law Schools to which he applied, he was accepted into the night division of only one—the only one that did not receive this essay as part of the application packet. But as always, through character and hard work and only God can imagine what difficulties, Troy made the most of that opportunity, graduating in 2012. He passed the Bar Exam on his first try and spent the next two years sending out hundreds of applications and going through dozens of interviews. When he was able to get some feedback from the failed interviews, it was just more of the same – “we can’t imagine you being the kind of guy to sit next to some of our older clients and really listen to what they have to say,” one group of partners told him.
In November of 2014, he began a 14-month opportunity as a paralegal with the Department of Justice in Washington D.C. Underemployed? Yes, currently. A talent under recognized and under appreciated? Yes, so far. But a giant of character and a tremendous role model for ANY person facing difficulties.
Troy Crumrine is part of the six-week advocacy project Autism Unveiled Project commencing on April 2, 2015, World Autism Awareness Day.