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Student Voice — The Next Chapter: Jacinta Reynolds

When Jacinta Reynolds was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a teenager, she began what would be a challenging and confronting journey of self-discovery.

Through a twist of fate, Jacinta became involved in the Curtin Specialist Mentoring Program and found the self-confidence she needed to realise her ambitions.

When I was 14, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition on the Autism Spectrum.

At the time, I was at an all-girls boarding school in England and my family was still living in Chicago, where I was born, with my younger sister and brother.

Whilst it was a light bulb moment for me, it also marked the start of a very long journey towards self-acceptance and understanding of what living with Autism meant.

When Mum found out, a year before I did, she was told I would never have a normal life, go to university, or be independent. Constant bullying at school and my increasing anxiety over tests and exams, only increased her worry. But in our house, not going to university was not an option. So, in 2010 when we moved from the UK to Perth, Mum and I set out on a mission to get me into university.

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In 2012 when I graduated year 12, I was accepted into Curtin University to do a multidisciplinary science degree, with a higher Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) than expected and a Headmaster’s Recommendation Award. In 2014, I won the STAR scholarship, transferred to a physics degree, and joined the Curtin Specialist Mentoring Program, or CSMP.

The CSMP was my saving grace at Curtin. During the first year of university, I was lonely, anxious, and didn’t do much except study. I didn’t have any friends, didn’t talk or communicate with my peers, and freaked out if I couldn’t sit at a desk on the second level at the library. The year only got worse when my sister moved back to the UK and I lost my first job which I only had for six months due to disclosure of my Autism. By a stroke of luck, Jasmine and Theresa—the founders of the CSMP —incorrectly dialled my number and, since I was registered with Curtin’s disability program, invited me to join the CSMP when it started up in 2014.

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I had always wanted to be a science communicator who specialised in astrophysics. I had many amazing teachers who inspired me to become a communicator, and I always had a passion for the stars and the great unknown. But, quiet and hidden amongst the great crowd of first year students, I wasn’t making any headway in my dream. Joining the CSMP changed all of that.

The program at the start was a jumble of mentors (postgrad students in occupational therapy and psychology) and mentees who all had Autism, not knowing how to interact with each other or communicate. Ice breaker games were filled with silence and long pauses, and after three weeks no one was sure if we, the seven mentees, wanted to be there. That is, until one day me and another mentee, Cameron, brought in our Nintendo DSs and sat down to play them at a meeting. Cue the chatterboxes.

That breakthrough was enough to spark more interaction between the mentees, as we all had a love of video and strategy games, and between the mentors.

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I also realised, after a semester with the CSMP, that my skills in communication were far better than I thought, which gave me the confidence to speak up at the groups and talk to Jasmine and Theresa about how we could improve the program. I take no credit for where the CSMP is today—that is all down to the amazing work done by Jasmine, Theresa, Craig and Elaine—but Jasmine and Theresa saw a lot of me over the next three years, on the CSMP Committee and as a CSMP Ambassador.

My family couldn’t believe the difference it had made in my confidence, and my marks and experience at uni went from isolated to amazing. I also learned more about myself, my diagnosis, and how others saw my disability. I no longer saw my disability as a disability. My unique way of thinking helped my writing in my creative writing courses and lab write-ups; my lack of filter put me on many panel discussions and in other speaking roles because of my honesty; and my bravery to tell people about my Autism drew people towards me.

Long story short, I had three amazing mentors, endless support from the others in the group, and gained valuable leadership and communication experience.

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In January 2017, I graduated from Curtin with a Bachelor of Science, Majoring in Physics and Specialising in Astrophysics, with a good dose of creative writing experience thrown in for good measure. I was also working part- time at my first real job and a mentor to a school aged student with Autism. And it was all thank to the support of my family and the CSMP.

Since then, I have moved out of home, bought my own house, become a mentor to another student, joined the Board of Directors for Autism West, started a new full-time job, joined a martial arts school, and started a new relationship — everything Mum was told I would probably never have.

Taking leaps of faith, and trying new things—especially for someone with Autism—is hard, and university is daunting enough! But if it hadn’t been for that phone call in my first year, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Curtin’s support, the CSMP and my family helped me get through uni and navigate the adult world, a very scary world I’ll have you know, and I wouldn’t change any of it. Not the failed exams, not the meltdowns, or the hyper anxiety over assessments and tests.

The CSMP has given me the confidence to be myself and to be proud of it. I would say to anyone who is just starting uni that keeping your mind open to the possibilities is the best thing you can do. Because you never know what could happen!

Read more inspiring stories of student success here.

Posted 6 November 2019 Posted in Disability, General, My Story — Student Voice