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 Zirlin, a local researcher here at MUSC, and he’s here to tell us a little bit about himself. Hi, Ben.

Ainsley Knight: Ben, what do you dislike about your — about your job?

BZ: That’s a good question. Well, the job — I mean the job itself, you know, I really like the things that I do with the job. Um, and I — I think it’s a — it’s a really good job in terms of being on the autism spectrum, like the actual things that I’m doing [C. Magnus: Yes], the tasks I’m completing. Um, some of the challenges that I’ve had to deal with are related to just the — the kind of social environment of where I work. Um, the — the people I work with, they’re very social people and, you know, I’m — I’m not so that’s caused some, uh, kind of some problems because I’ve felt — and especially, like, before I told everyone, uh, everyone I work with now knows that I’m on the Autism spectrum, um, so but things have got a lot better since then.

CM: So they kind of understand you a little bit more now.

BZ: I — I feel like they do, yeah. Um, I — I feel better about myself too, which makes a difference. [CM: Yeah] If you feel — because I just didn’t feel like before I — before people knew that, even if people thought it, I just I didn’t know what people thought about me and I always thought people just, like, thought I was just, just really weird and didn’t [CM: Yup) understand anything. [CM: Yeah] Like, why — why am I like the only one not going to some of those, a lot of these social events that — because, I mean there were so many times where like people from my lab would just be going out for like social events and I would just be like one of the only ones not going and I always felt so awkward about that. [CM: yeah] Like, what are people thinking about me? You know, like, being the only one not going.


BZ: And, um, I’ve had problems with, uh, loud noises that have — some, some of the equipment that we’ve had in the lab, if it’s, um, if it’s been close to where I’m sitting I — it affects my ability to focus on my work, um, which has caused me some problems and I just, like — it’s like my brain just like — it just kind of stops functioning when I’m just hearing this noise [CM: Yeah] that’s just kind of driving [CM: I can relate to that too] —

AK: Yeah, me too.

Patrick Reid: I feel your pain, man.

Leo D. Glover: Have you ever thought about wearing noise-canceling headphones when you work?

BZ: Well I do — you know I have, like, just the regular ear buds and I actually started using like one of those white noise machines that I have, like, I have it actually set up at my bench like right — like I sit here and I have, like, a white noise machine right here.

CM: What’s your white noise machine?

BZ: Just a dome [CM: Okay], [coughing, unintelligible] uh, like the circular one. Um, and then, uh — yeah, I don’t have, like, the special noise cancelling — I have thought about them but I just have like the normal ear buds. I moved to a different, uh, bench, uh, work spot in the past year, actually, which helped me a little bit more [CM: Yeah] isolated.

CM: I recommend those headphones if you are going to go to with noise canceling,

LDG: Definitely. When it thunders, I put them on.

PR: I have fairly sensitive ears so with — when sudden, uh, loud noises happen, I just.. [motion of putting headphones on] [A: Yeah]

BZ: You know in my — in my apartment where I live I — I have, like, five white noise machines. I have like a — I just have like a shield of white noise cuz like when I hear, like, a — a noise from outside like, for example, there’s like a dog that lives somewhere, I think he lives directly below me, this dog, and he barks pretty loud so when I hear that it, it kind of drives me a little bit crazy so I have these white noise machines to try to just — so I don’t hear it as much, you know. So [CM: yeah], it’s my personal life and work, I just have these white noise machines but…

AF: Do you feel like your co-workers, once you came out about being on the spectrum, were a little bit more adaptive or helpful about things like noise or just how to act around you?

BZ: Yeah, I would definitely say so. And, unfortunately for me — like when I did — when I did, uh, reveal to the — to everyone that I was on the autism spectrum, I was having — this was, this was before, you know, I joined the — the Rex MD, uh, program — but I, um, was having problems — that, I was having some — some — some problems at work and so it wasn’t — it just — it was kind of a — I wish I could have let everyone know during a better time when things were going a little bit better but once, um, but I was able to smooth out, um, those things and, um, and things have been — for the past few months, um, things have been really great, uh, in terms of, uh — I feel like people definitely understand me a lot better.

DR. GWYNETTE: That was some video, huh?

LDG: That sure was a very great video to watch.

DR. GWYNETTE: Yeah, Ben is learning to navigate his way through the work environment.

LDG: And we also want to thank Ben for stopping by to tell us a little bit about himself and — and what he has at his job.

DR. GWYNETTE: For Leo, I’m doctor Gwinnett. Thanks for watching the Autism News Network.