April is Autism Awareness Month and Walden University doctoral student Nathaniel Geyer demonstrates daily how much adults with autism spectrum disorder can accomplish. In addition to pursuing a PhD in Public Health with a specialization in Epidemiology at Walden, Nathaniel works full time as a health analyst and serves as an advocate for other adults with autism.
“Advocacy for adults with autism is my social change mission. Most people consider autism a childhood disorder that can be outgrown, but this is not the case,” he says. “Originally, I was focused on my own needs but read about other autistics in college who had similar needs. I tend to start small but think big. I feel my advocacy gives hope to other adults with autism.”
Nathaniel was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at age nine and has worked hard to overcome the challenges of his condition. His family and therapists have supported his success in school, and a job coach helped him find employment. As a child, he also pushed himself to become involved in the Boy Scouts, choir, and other activities.
“The challenge was to find the appropriate place to showcase my talents but avoid my shortfalls,” Nathaniel explains. “One of the reasons to have some type of social outlet was to lead a productive life with purpose.”
Nathaniel continues to struggle with multitasking, eye contact, staying focused, and managing his emotions, but he says talking with members of his support network lessens his difficulties. He advises other adults with autism to become their own advocates and to surround themselves with people who can help them succeed.
In regard to continuing education, Nathaniel mentions the benefits of an online environment, which allows an adult with autism to learn without leaving home. Pointing to his personal experience managing school, work, advocacy, and autism, Nathaniel says, “It is important to know your strengths and weaknesses and when to make sacrifices. One sacrifice I make is only taking one course per quarter at Walden. The benefit is that I have a high GPA and can find more time for my advocacy and full-time job.”
As an advocate, not just in April but every day of the year, Nathaniel hopes to make educators and employers more aware of both the condition and capabilities of adults with autism. He says, “Adults with autism tend to have highly specialized skills and can be valuable employees. However, we still have a long way to go with advocacy to educate the business community and general community at large. I’m hopeful that every year will get better for this extraordinary disabled minority population.”