The Autism News Network conducted an interview/round table discussion with Benjamin Zirlin, an MUSC researcher who is openly on the spectrum. In this video, he discusses overcoming challenges with becoming an independent adult whilst going off to college.


Annabel Franz: Hey, this is Annabel with Autism News Network and we’re here with Benjamin Zirlan, a local researcher here at MUSC, and he’s here to tell us a little bit about himself. Hi, Ben.

BZ: Hi.

C. Magnus: Ben, what was like the — what was the transition from high school to college?

BZ: Yeah, so that was kind of interesting. Um, I actually went to a military school for — for five years. Uh, started in, uh, eighth grade [CM: Yeah] until I graduated from high school and went to two different schools. So, for me high school is like a really different kind of a unique type of experience and there was a lot of challenges and things involved but, um, for me college was really difficult for me starting out because I — I mean this kind of goes into the thing, you know, being on the autism [CM: yeah] spectrum but being independent for me at that point was something I was still — I mean even though I’d been in military school, like college is you’re just completely independent. And I went to Oklahoma [CM: Yeah] State, which was out of state and I was all on my own. And I couldn’t — when, when I was at Oklahoma State my first year I could not get things together.

CM: You just kind of — it’s like oh my god I’m like I’m like I’m on my own like —

BZ: Yeah, I [CM: That’s the kind of thing] I tried to join a fraternity also and that was a really — that was not a good idea for me [CM: Yeah] to — to try to ju — you know that’s that’s not a good fit for me. Um, so that –that you know, and I couldn’t figure out what degree I wanted to do so I ended up going — switching to, um, be closer to home [CM: Yeah] so I went to the University of North Texas. But, so yeah, the transition was — was pretty difficult but then so I — you know — I ended up being closer to home and really not being as — as independent and I kind of was, um, finding myself relying on being close to my family. [CM: Yeah] Uh, so that’s something — you know probably up until my mid-20s [CM: Yeah] I found myself [CM: Yeah] kind of avoiding the whole being — the independent thing.

CM: It’s just like kind of a little extra harder since, uh, the spectrum — God — I would imagine if I — that for me I’m like oh my God I’m in college, I’m away from my family, I’m actually on my own, you know —

BZ: Yeah, I mean — and I’ll tell you like one — it’s a lot — it’s like tied, a lot of it’s tied to anxiety — like things I feel about things that are unknown and unexpected. Like I remember even up until like my mid-20s I would feel, uh, really anxious about making appointments [CM: Yeah] on my own, like colleges, talking to a stranger on the phone — so I would like ask my parents to make appointments for me [CM: yeah] because I was just so anxious about just calling a stranger. And I’m jumping ah– ahead a little here [CM: Yeah] but I had to — at at s– at one point I actually, um, had a situation with — with my family where I was forced to be the — to be very, to be more independent [CM: Yeah] — independent on my own and that was like around my mid-20s so then I just had to start [CM: You gotta learn everything] to push myself [CM: the hard way, you know, yeah.]