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“I know how much it sucks to feel lonely, so I can be understanding when friends feel alone.”

By Nikolas Brooks

I have Asperger’s syndrome, which means I lack the ability to empathize. For the longest time, it was very difficult for me to make friends. Nobody understood how I felt or communicated. I was completely isolated and really lonely.

In middle school, I’d observe other people’s interactions from a distance and try to figure out how their relationships were built. Almost like learning stuff from a textbook. I had to learn how to form friendships consciously instead of just having an instinct for it.

By listening, I was able to connect with people.

I realized that friendship is about listening, so I’ve taught myself to be an active listener. If a friend is struggling, I make time to try to talk through his problems. I know how much it sucks to feel lonely, so I can be understanding when friends feel alone.

By listening, I was able to connect with people. In my senior year of high school, I was actually pretty popular. I was involved in a lot of different clubs. I was on the wrestling team. I was taking six AP courses. On top of all that, I was working at Dairy Queen. Talking to kids about which Blizzard they wanted did wonders for my communication skills!

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I still have so far to go, but I have also come so far.

My experience with Asperger’s has made me extra aware that I need to be a good friend to myself too. That’s served me well as a first-generation college student. Unlike many of my peers at Notre Dame, I have a job in addition to my studies. In the spring of my sophomore year, I was burnt out. So I taught myself to practice self-care. Now I work out every day, I’m eating clean, and I sleep more than any other engineering student here.

When I was diagnosed, the doctors told my mom that I probably wasn’t going to live a normal life. They said I’d never go to college. That broke her heart. It’s crazy to look back at where I was ten years ago and compare that to where I am now. I still have so far to go, but I have also come so far. I’m a junior majoring in computer science at a great university. Back then, I thought I’d always feel isolated. Now I get the most joy from my friendships and family.

_________

Nikolas is a junior computer science student at the University of Notre Dame. A member of Notre Dame’s boxing team, he places his personal health and wellness at a premium. Given the chance, he’d spend all his time on the beach with his beloved friends and family back home in Hollywood, Florida.

Image Credit: Alex Garcia/The Verbatim Agency for OptionB.Org

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