My name is Ramon Castaños. I am 24. I am Mexican-American. And I am a third-year journalism student at California State University, Fresno trying to jumpstart my journalism career.
All of those things about me are more interesting than the fact that I live with autism.
I hate that most people treat me differently when they find out I have autism. I just want to be treated like everyone else.
In 2016, I graduated from Sunnyside High School in my hometown of Fresno. I chose to study journalism in college because I am a very curious person. I like telling stories. I am learning to be better at it.
Now I realize that my autism offers me opportunities I did not think of before. Doesn’t every newsroom need at least one reporter who has autism or another physical or mental challenge? Too often people with disabilities are not covered by the media and sometimes reporters have a tough time understanding and relating to a source who lives with a disability and that could impact the quality of the story.
I hate to admit it, but my autism makes college harder. So does being from a low-income family because I cannot easily afford a car or a new laptop. My mom generally complains to me about money because she works hard at the factory.
I have to ride the public bus to campus at Fresno State. I am trying to earn my driver’s license, but I cannot afford driving lessons. My family doesn’t have time to teach me.
The buses can be very dirty. They smell bad. One day, someone vomited near my seat.
One of the worst things is that the bus can be late. Once, I was so late for class that I missed the first half.
My mom and brother don’t like to drive me to Fresno State in the morning because of traffic and how far the school is from their jobs. Both of them have to work to keep a roof over our heads and food in the refrigerator. Luckily, on most days my family manages to pick me up from school.
Since I am telling you about autism in college, I should mention that autism makes taking notes in class very difficult. Autism makes it hard to listen to someone for an extended amount of time. Because of my type of autism, I can barely sit still in my seat for more than a few minutes.
The good news is that my college offers services for students with autism and other disabilities. I was offered access to student note-takers who shared lecture notes with me and were allowed to record lectures. I also got to take tests in quiet areas outside the classroom.
I used these services as best I could, but sometimes it did not work out. For instance, one Macroeconomics 40 professor could not find a willing note-taker, who is most often a student volunteer, and the professor was unwilling to let me record the class. As a result, I had a tough time and earned a D-.
In high school, I had similar accommodations that were supposed to help me graduate. Some schools call it an Individualized Education Plan. The program has problems because the majority of teachers under the IEP have never cared for a student with a disability before, at least in my case, and I am talking from elementary school through high school. But I was fortunate that one teacher helped me by working with me on note-taking and essays.
Also, on a national level, money and services are available for students with disabilities. I use services provided by the federal Department of Rehabilitation and its Workability IV program, which offers to place me in a job after college graduation. Workability IV also helps me prepare for interviews, and create resumes and cover letters for my career path.
The Department of Rehabilitation also helps pay part of my tuition and the cost of books. I just joined the program this year, but I will need more financial help in the near future.
The government also offers to help pay for public transportation, but I don’t need it because Fresno State already offers a free bus pass for students in school. By the way, the department is supposed to help pay for my driving lessons, but with my school schedule and reliance on public buses, it has been hard to make an appointment without having to cancel. If I cancel, I end up at the end of the waiting list.
The department does great work, but sometimes it takes a couple of days to get a response to my emailed questions. But, that’s because the department is underfunded and understaffed.
My autism sucks. My mom works extra hard to help me. She tells me, “Do not worry about having a side job.”
She wants me to focus my attention and energy on school.
My name is Ramon. I will graduate from Fresno State. I will always have autism, but not even that stops me.
Ramon Castaños is a senior studying journalism at California State University, Fresno and he is a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.
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