Kevin McLoughlin on University Societies as an Autistic Man

 

Hey everyone! I’m Kevin, I’m 19 years old, and I’m halfway through my first year exams in
NUIG. This year has been wild and formative for me in so many important and meaningful
ways but one I’m here to write about today is my social life. You see, most of you know that
autistic people can be opposed to change, well I am sorta the same, it has all the same
negative effects on me I just don’t really try to avoid it anymore. That’s how I ended up
uprooting myself from secondary school (Tulla, Clare) and planting myself in my dream
college doing my dream course (NUIG, English and History Joint Honors). A wonderful
change was all I could think, separate myself from my old life and just grow up and become
that amazing person everyone turns into in college, right?

Well to answer that question, sorta. You see it was a great year of growth but with
that I lost a few roots, see I only knew a handful of people in NUIG or who were going and
most of my good friends were going elsewhere except for two. So as you can imagine with
this massive social change I spent the first few weeks of college clinging hard to the few
people I knew, I spent more time in my friend’s new houses than I did my own, because to
be honest despite all my bravado and confidence, I was a bit lost and alone even with my
sister and friends looking out for me as best they could and really helping me settle into
living away from home. For me though it’s always been about my social circles and friends,
but at the same time I find it hard to make new friends or actively get involved in
something. So I kind of struggled because event though I had settled into my apartment and
everything like that I just had not managed to really find a group for myself that wasn’t
someone else’s group that I just tagged onto. However this year I found a pretty cool
strategy for autistic people going into college to find their own circle… throwing yourself
headfirst into societies.

I know it sounds stupid but if you have a passion for something and the college has a
club or society to accommodate that, it’s great, but you can fall into the background of that
group, you can end up on the fringes not knowing how to penetrate through, that was my
plan at the start of the year and it didn’t really work that well until later in the year. I know
that many others say that you should just make friends with people in your course but for
me that requires an independent approach on my part without really having a structure
through which to approach them and that is scary. The comfy way that I found to push
myself into a full on college social life with people where I had no previous friends, was
through my involvement with the formerly inactive Harry Potter Appreciation Society. On
the first day of college the societies were all trying to sign up new members and I of course
was standing around looking for the harry potter society (a special interest of mine) I had
heard about years ago, but it turned out they had fallen apart over the two previous years
and were going to be completely shutdown, I didn’t think that was good enough so I
swallowed my nerves, got a signup sheet off of the societies office and sat down at the desk,
by the end of the day we had enough new members to remain a society. After a brief period
of panic and stress I managed to set up an election in which a committee was elected and
despite wanting to ditch the role originally I was elected Auditor (president) of the society.

Slowly I made close friends with every committee member and became close with our                                        regulars as we held more and more events like movie screenings, games nights and
discussions. Knowing my own struggles with making friends we went out of our way to
make the society as inclusive as possible and not only did we manage to get back on our feet
but we actually became one of the more active more attended societies in the college. The
society helped to make me and others feel like we were involved and cared for by the
university and that’s not my words, it’s the feedback we got from members at the end of
the year, other people said it was a major help whenever they were stressed about study or
anything to do with school and some said that The friendships they made here cross borders
as their new friends from the society begin to return to their homes in Germany, California,
New York, Spain, Georgia, France and Austria. Honestly, I agree with all of them, I have been
empowered to get involved in the university through Pottersoc, I signed up for more and
more as the year went on as I found that this feeling of giving people a place to be
themselves was the perfect combat to all my anxiety and worry. In fact I got so involved that
my involvement even earned me the best fresher award for NUIG and a runner up place at
BICS the national awards. Those awards were an amazing validation for me but to be honest
I feel like I won the moment I got involved I look forward to next year equally to my course
and to my continuing role as president of Pottersoc and the new friends that will be made
there.

Tickets are available here!

Wednesday 7th August ~Community Support: Autism: Transition from Secondary School to College~ The Harbour Hotel, Galway

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