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Studying with autism

Angelica Addison has Asperger's, a high-functioning form of Autism. The Mills College junior psychology major can regularly be found studying at the Tea Shop. (Priscilla Wilson)

You can probably find Angelica Addison at the Tea Shop everyday around dinnertime doing her homework or having a friendly chat with a passerby.

She’s very active in the Mills and Oakland community.

She’s a member of the Black Women’s Collective, the Psychology Club, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and does community work with the college prep program, College Track in Oakland. Addison is a junior majoring in psychology and like any other Mills woman, Addison is motivated, talented, intelligent, and proud. But Addison is a little different. She says so herself.

According to Jess Miller, director of Services for Students with Disabilities, Angelica Addison is one of five Mills students with diagnosed Asperger’s. (Priscilla Wilson)

“I was diagnosed with Autism when I was an infant, and I was first made aware of it when I was 14 or 15 years old,” Addison said.

Addison has a high-functioning form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome. People with Asperger’s are described as having difficulty in social interactions and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.

“It was more obvious when I was younger. I had problems with social interactions, I jumped around a lot, and I had learning difficulties,” Addison said.

Addison often repeats herself, likes to twirl her pencil and has a habit of fidgeting with surrounding school supplies; habits Addison said exemplifies her autism.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the most tell-tale sign of Autism is impaired social interaction. Addison added that learning and love issues are also a daily challenge for someone who is autistic.

Currently, statistics show that Autism affects 1 in 110 children, Autism costs the nation over $35 billion per year, and it receives less than 5% of the federal funding allotted for research on childhood diseases.

Addison said that the lack of funding is a problem and that not enough attention is given to her autism. April is National Autism Awareness Month and Addison said that it’s a special time to educate the larger community about the autistic community.But Addison also said there seems to be a lack of on-campus community for Mills students with autism.

“I don’t know anyone here at Mills who’s autistic. I’m sure there are some, but I haven’t met any,” she said.

Every Wednesday, Addison works with Jess Miller, Director of Student Services with Disabilities.

“There are four other people, a part from Angelica, in the Mills community who are diagnosed with Aspergers, and I offer any student that can benefit from it to check in weekly. It’s not just an academic situation it’s also social issues, so I can be that person to bounce off that experience,” Miller said.

Miller aids Addison’s college experience in many ways-school work management,and works with her on engaging socially with faculty and students.

Addison was in English professor Bula Madison’s Introduction to Literary Studies last fall. Madison said Addison was a strong student, always eager to communicate.

“It was wonderful having her as a student in the classroom,” Madison said. “She presents herself well and communicated with me at the beginning of the semester to tell me what her needs were.”

Madison said that Addison’s willingness to speak about her autism was telling of her maturity.

“I know not everyone is comfortable coming forward with their needs, but it’s really helpful when they do.”

But Addison wasn’t always accepting of her autism; she said it took a long time.

“I had so many learning issues. Socially, I was unsuccessful, love is hard, and pity parties for the way you look,” she said.

But today, Addison now 22, embraces her life with autism and it has inspired her to speak up and educate people about the community of autistics.

“I’m definitely better, more improved state. I don’t look down. I’m a proud spokesperson. I want to change the stigmas,” she said. “I want to do community outreach, talk to people, create understanding. Have a voice in this community. Especially here at Mills.”

On her right wrist, Addison wears several bracelets, but there’s one special one that her friend gave her a year ago that has a charm from the national ribbon for Autism awareness.

“I wear it everyday,” said Addison.