My son’s intelligence (and resulting high
marks) shone in areas he was interested in.
“The worst thing is the anxiety, being incredibly uncertain of what you’re supposed to do, how you’re
supposed to act. This impacts me both
professionally and personally” Constantly told our son was
unmotivated despite his intelligence,
we sought other education options.
Fortunately, he was accepted into the
high school international baccalaureate
program. Here the teachers were not
threatened by his intelligence or his
challenges to the usual ways of doing
things. They encouraged “
“Homework was in many cases, optional. I didn’t need to do more than I thought I needed in order to
understand the material. And for
the very first time ever, I started
enjoying school.” His chemistry teacher also taught him
philosophy, instilling a love of global
thinking, writing and, surprisingly, a flair
for public speaking.
When he did mess up and missed an
early morning provincial exam, Kyle
made a passionate presentation to his
principal, and got a reduced supervised
exam time. He killed it.
But every step forward was met with
two steps back. He achieved 98 per
cent on his final Grade 12 provincial
exam, a scholarship and acceptance in
the university astrophysics program.
But after a year in large classes with
professors who didn’t notice (or care
about) his struggles, he failed. The
university rejected an official appeal.
Discouraged, summer work at a home
improvement store turned into Kyle’s full-
time job. Counselling for anxiety brought
the Asperger’s diagnosis. Eventually,
persuaded to go back to school, he landed
in civil engineering technology at SAIT.
I would love to say he breezed through
the course—he didn’t. But he found
acceptance and support. Classes were
smaller, individual attention was greater
and he sought more counselling for
“The counselling and the understanding faculty at SAIT are the primary reasons I successfully
completed post-secondary education.
There is no doubt in my mind that
without that, I simply would not have
made it through.” Faculty followed up if they saw him
struggling, and his SAIT counsellor
offered emotional support, course
strategies and social coping skills.
That is not the norm.
McCrimmon also does clinical
consulting with universities on how
to identify and support students with
ASD, especially when many on the
spectrum arrive at post-secondary
without a diagnosis. “My experience is
most [school] counsellors do not have
awareness of Asperger’s or ASD. It is
hard to support people if you don’t
Just as importantly, my son found
the Calgary Geek Social Club, which
describes its members as “reclusive, shy,
socially awkward or just not good at
making friends and meeting people.”
Kyle describes going to his first meeting
as perhaps the most important decision
of his life. Although he just sat down and
watched a movie, he kept going and soon
had a small group of friends.
“I met the great people who got me through post-secondary—not by helping me study, but simply by being
there and being my friends. Despite
my normal anti-social tendencies, I
found that if I didn’t take time to hang
out with my friends in this club, school
rapidly became overwhelming. I’m not
sure why this is, but I can’t deny the
correlation.” John Elder Robison is an autism
activist and author of four books about
his own 60 years on the spectrum. We
saw Robison when he spoke in Calgary
years ago. He urged young people in the
crowd—who heartbreakingly described
lonely lives without friends—to find
communities of people like themselves.
Robison dropped out of school at 15
and wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s
until he was 40. Yet he become a self-taught sound engineer who developed
special sound systems and toured with
top bands in his 20s, including KISS and
Canada’s April Wine. He also worked on
video games and talking toys at Milton
Bradley, and started his own exotic car
His youth was lonely, spent fixated
on music and electronics. Until his
diagnosis—despite business success,
marriage and a child—he felt like a
failure, a social misfit.
In Be Different: My Adventures with
Asperger’s and My Advice for Fellow
Aspergians, Misfits, Families, and Teachers,
Robison offers advice on how to harness
concentration, deal with bullies and
identify special gifts to advantage.
Today, he is the father of a son in
university (also on the autism spectrum)
and says while some—such as medical
doctors—are more aware of autism,