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Life beyond bubbles, screens and lecture halls

Last week, I enjoyed an unexpected encounter in a lecture hall out at Zernike. As I walked into my class on psychiatric disorders (admittedly, a little late) I spotted two lecturers at the top of the room. As our professor filled us in on the particulars of autism spectrum disorder, our other co-lecturer sat patiently until called upon. Then, once his time came, he exploded into life.

Once our professor completed her erudite accounts on an aspect of autism highlighting modern research and theory behind the spectrum of disorders which carry the term; our colourfully dressed and expressive co-lecturer would take the floor. Microphone in hand, he took us through his lived experience of autism from childhood to the modern work and family commitments of middle age.

His story was impressive, to say the least, and told with a sense of good humour and frank honesty which was both refreshing and enlightening. He painted a picture beyond the valuable academic research into autism and showed us the colour of a person who had overcome great adversity to achieve his goals. All of this despite the unique difficulties with daily activities that come with ASD.

After a year and a half of Covid restrictions the connection to a life outside seems less obvious

This ‘expert by experience’ imparted on me, and on all of us gathered there, a reminder of life beyond the lecture hall and the university campus. That life goes on beyond lectures, assignments, and exams. It seems simple, but it’s often so easy to forget that the things we learn about on campus often have a demonstrable effect on communities and the lives of the people in them.

After a year and a half of Covid restrictions, the connection to a life outside of screens, study and my private bubble seems less obvious than it used to be. Especially with university demanding that my head remain stuck for hours in books or screens. I suppose it’s hard to feel in touch with the outside world when you spend some eighteen months forcibly removed from it.

At the end of the lecture, post-epiphany, I went up to speak to the professor. She recognised me from a class last year and we had a lovely conversation. I had hoped to catch the co-main event for a word too, but he escaped before I had the chance. Then as I cycled home, I spotted him alongside the bicycle lane and called out a compliment as I passed. I heard a faint ‘thank you’ behind me.

A chance encounter, I felt connected again.

NIALL TORRIS

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