Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Our Voices: The Autist Papers

Thoughts and ideas from an autistic college student
Graphic by Nick Archambault/ Daily Collegian.

My name is Liv Cushman. I am a 21-year-old journalism major at the University of Massachusetts, and I am on the autism spectrum. Ever since my diagnosis around the age of 15, I have been passionate about educating others about what it’s like to be on the autism spectrum. April is Autism Acceptance Month, and even during this month, autism acceptance isn’t talked about enough.

For a neurotypical person, I would describe autism as having heightened senses; imagine you were a cat that doesn’t like to be picked up or touched but will show affection when they feel it’s appropriate. You are hyper-aware of the things around you, and you’re on edge all the time because of it.

I have always struggled socially, ever since I was young. I didn’t understand a lot of social cues and norms, such as not talking over people when they are speaking. I had a lot of unique interests and I was a bit of a tomboy. When I was 6 or 7, I remember being into stereotypical “boy” things such as Pokémon and race car toys.

Since I wasn’t into the same things as other girls my age, I only ever made a few friends that I stuck with throughout elementary and middle school. I desperately wanted to fit in with all the “normal” girls, so I started dressing and acting like them. Some wanted to be friends with me, but I was oblivious if they made even a remote effort to try and talk to me.

I remember struggling with serious mental issues such as body dysmorphia, anxiety and  depression. I wasn’t treated for depression until I was almost 13 and, being as stubborn as I was, I refused therapy. All I had to cope with my depression were my parents and medications that would change seemingly every month.

Upon entering high school, everything was going well — until it all came crashing down toward the end of my freshman year. I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation. How it got to that point, I don’t exactly remember, or even want to remember. I attribute it to is poor coping skills and being taken advantage of within a toxic relationship. All of this happened when I was only 15 years old.

I was in the hospital unit for a month. I made friends there and it was surprisingly easy to connect with kids that were experiencing similar things. I was also diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. At first, I was in disbelief. For many years, I hated myself for being the way I am, and it still causes episodes of depression to this day.

I am still figuring myself out and how I work, just as everyone is at this stage in their life. I am a unique individual, just as everyone else is, whether they’re on the spectrum or not. Yes, I am autistic, but I act differently than your six-year-old little cousin who throws tantrums whenever he gets overstimulated. I am still actively trying to convince myself that I am worth living for myself. To face life’s challenges every single day sometimes is a struggle.

As for this column, writing has always been a helpful outlet for me to get the feelings out that I tend to bottle up. I’ve never been the best at verbally communicating my thoughts and ideas, so writing is the best way for me to get my voice out there.

My goal for this column, much like the Federalist Papers of colonial America, is to express the everyday experience of autistic college students and to make other autistic voices heard in the process.

I will do everything I can to spring forth other ideas that are worth talking about in our neuro-diverse community. Diversity of thought, an admittedly abstract concept, is nevertheless a beautiful one that helps us appreciate one another. It’s worth spreading the word about.

Liv Cushman can be reached at [email protected].

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    Beth KaufmanApr 16, 2023 at 11:51 am

    Thank you for sharing and offering this important column!!!! I am sure it will make a huge impact!!