Speaker shares experiences dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome

Sara Bennett

He wore a crisp white dress shirt and khaki pants. Not one hair on his head was out of place.

Nicholas Subak’s appearance was polished, as was his smile, which he wore as he looked around the room at the audience.

He looked at the clock and quickly moved with a slight awkwardness over to his laptop. He pulled up his PowerPoint presentation and began his speech.

“I was in a maze,” Subak began, referring to his childhood.

The maze he referred to is Asperger’s syndrome, which he spoke about June 29 at the Topics in Child Development Conference.

He was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 16 years old.

Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder distinguished by social awkwardness and repetitive patterns, similar to some symptoms of autism, according to the National Institute of Health’s online encyclopedia.

Subak, a Kent State graduate student, said his diagnosis was one of the most positive events of his life as it helped him realize what caused his differences.

“I think, if anything, that having Asperger’s syndrome has helped me,” he said. “It is a part of my being. It is integral to my existence.”

But Subak didn’t always feel this way. He used to act out in school to gain the attention he so desperately sought from his classmates, he said.

“It was the inability to connect with my peers that led to my nonsensical and unruly behavior,” he said. “(Isolation) was the one barrier I couldn’t break through.”

Entering high school, Subak thought changing to a Catholic school would remedy his problem of gaining acceptance, but he soon found it didn’t work.

“I was always the bottom of the pecking order,” he said. “I got the comprehension that I was not going to assimilate.”

Subak said the rejection he experienced in Catholic school was much more upsetting because he felt, as Christians, they didn’t practice what they preached.

“It is a foolish hope to think that everyone will accept me unconditionally,” he said.

Early on, sadness filled his life. He began to obsess about his imperfections, he said.

“I tried to fix every external flaw I could so I could have something to fall back on,” Subak said.

Although it wasn’t perfect, college at both Kent State and the University of Akron was a positive change in his life.

Subak sought help at Kent State’s Student Accessibility Services, which provided him with note-taking assistance.

Julie Bartlett, disabilities specialist at Student Accessibility Services, said getting help from the center is up to students, and the amount of help needed is student specific.

“We provide accommodations,” Bartlett said. “Our office doesn’t go out and seek students with disabilities. They must seek help.”

Subak said he received only minor support from Kent State, but it was enough.

College was the breath of confidence he needed to succeed.

“Socially, college was still an issue, but I just pushed my way through it,” Subak said. “It really began to set in that despair and misery didn’t necessarily have to be a part of my life.”

Subak found a passion for public speaking and decided he should switch his major.

“I chose communications because it was more versatile and it was a stepping stone,” he said. “I really love presenting. As long as I can offer input in the way of changing people’s opinions and perspectives for the better, then that will be the path I choose.”

He is currently working toward a master’s degree in special education. He said his disorder makes it an even more worthwhile goal for him.

“This is who I am,” Subak said. “It is my burden, my curse and my blessing. (Asperger’s) used to be the instrument of my isolation. It is now a tool to reach out and touch individuals on a very fundamental level.”

Contact minority affairs, health and nursing and religion reporter Sara Bennett at [email protected].