I have autism, and I’m in college
I knew I wanted to go to college at a medium-sized private institution on the East Coast. I knew I wanted to study political science, I wanted opportunities to make change in my community, and I wanted to be able to work with the United Nations, which I think does more to make change than any other organization. I also knew I needed a school that provides support for students with learning differences. I am on the autism spectrum, and I knew I could succeed—but I also knew I’d need help.
I wanted to be a college student in New York to shock the world. I wanted to show that I can do something many people would say an autistic person can’t. I’m attending a prominent university, I’m studying abroad in the countries of my choice, and I’m staying on track to graduate with honors. I’m lucky to be loved by so many people surrounding me, who help me on this path.
That’s why I came to Pace University. And I’m proud to say that it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. So far, it is all working. I’m maintaining a GPA above 3.5, I’ve made dean’s list multiple times, and I’ve been inducted into the Pi Gamma Mu Honor Society of Social Sciences.
But being at Pace has allowed me to experience so much beyond the classroom, as well. I care about social justice, and I’ve collaborated with groups that strive to protect human rights and create safe environments for people around the world. I am a member of the LGBTQ Center, a volunteer for the Center for Community Action and Research, and a former democracy coach for Generation Citizen, a civic engagement group. Through activism, I’ve developed my teaching skills, discovered the hardships and challenges people are fighting to overcome, and volunteered in several places in the area.
My biggest passion is international diplomacy and world travel. As a delegate for Pace’s Model United Nations team, I’ve attended two conferences in New York City. As a world traveler, I’ve joined two study abroad programs. In January 2017, I studied geological and environmental relations in Ecuador—where I touched the equator, hiked steep cliffs, and observed the behaviors of animals and humans in an archipelago. Then, that fall, I studied global politics and Euro-Mediterranean relations at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain. I toured Europe during that semester, both on excursions provided by my program and on independent weekend trips to explore European history. My ambition for 2017 was to set a new personal record of 30 countries visited, and I’m proud to say that, yes, I reached my mark.
Pace is dedicated to helping all its students succeed, and it offers two programs that have helped me thrive here. Most important is the OASIS Program, a comprehensive environment for college students with high-functioning autism and other learning differences. Through OASIS, I participate in workshops about employment, practice interviews and apply for jobs with an internship coordinator, work on class assignments with an academic coach, and select my courses with an educational coordinator. It gives me the ongoing support I need to succeed.
That builds on the help I received from the Challenge to Achievement Program (CAP), which helps first-year students who need extra help transitioning to a college environment. CAP helped me develop useful study habits, learn to complete assignments in a timely manner, build strong relationships with classmates and professors, manage my time, register for courses, keep track of my credits, and overall create the success I want for the rest of my college experience.
When I graduate next year, I’ll enter the working world as a capable, productive member of society. After that, I want to give back, by making quality education accessible and safe for people around the world with autism spectrum disorders. I say that individuals with autism can be mysterious, but you must discover what they are using to succeed. Pace has discovered that I use world travel to succeed. My biggest goal is to visit all 193 U.N. member states before I’m 50. But even if I don’t make it, I know I’m succeeding.
David Sharif is a junior at Pace University majoring in political science and minoring in peace and justice studies