The Narrative We Tell Ourselves
By Kevin Vu| Published on April 8, 2021 | 8 Minute Read
The way we perceive our life’s stories can have an immeasurable impact on how we act or respond.
When I was two to three years old, I was diagnosed with autism, which my parents informed me about when I was eight years old. Due to speech delay issues and my difficulty with social skills and reading and writing, I had to be placed in special education classes during my elementary school years.
I had to undergo months of speech therapy and learn under a modified academic curriculum tailored to my learning ability. I had my fair share of small friendships and bright moments of joy and laughter during my younger years. At the same time, I’ve had to face several challenges growing up.
One of the major challenges I had to face was bullying. Students would constantly belittle me for being slow to understand social norms and cues. They also made fun of my placement in special education classes. Several students would intentionally avoid me and not want to play with me. They thought that my disability made me an inferior human being and I believed that. Therefore, for several years, I had quite a difficult time trying to cultivate friendships with other students outside of my special education classes. I felt very isolated from most of the other students. I wondered if I was a failure in any way or if I deserved all of the hatred and prejudice my bullies showed me.
At home, my mother helped to build up my reading, writing, and vocabulary skills. I headed my mother’s advice and decided to study and read many challenging works of literature from authors like Jane Austen and Victor Hugo. My new reading skills helped me transfer out of special education courses and got me into regular coursework.
I pushed to challenge my reading, writing, and mathematical abilities further by taking AP English, AP Calculus, and other advanced college-level courses in high school. Even though I struggled vigorously with endless nights of sleeplessness and doubts about my academic potential, I remained relentless in my pursuit for success. Every opportunity I took helped to get me closer to my dream. Eventually, all of this hard work and refusal to see myself as a failure led me to graduate successfully from high school and inspired me to go to college to study mathematics.
When I got to college, I realized that the biggest problem with my life wasn’t the bullying itself, but the narratives I told myself.
It’s one thing to be judged in a degrading way, but it’s another to take someone’s insults to be true and allow them to define who I am and how my life will turn out.
Therefore, instead of thinking of myself as a failure, I reframed myself as a fighter – someone who works tirelessly to achieve his dream of being a financially independent and successful adult.
Besides my academic career, I also recognized my need to improve my social skills. What I love to do is connect with people and form meaningful bonds and friendships with them.
In high school and college, I gained a lot of experience with interpersonal communication and leadership through volunteering. I volunteered for groups such as the Junior Reserves Officer Training Corps and Best Buddies International. I started working in higher education briefly as a math tutor helping underprivileged and disabled students. Eventually, I became a research assistant supporting the policymaking decisions of college administrators. Even though I still struggle with social skills to this day, these experiences have helped me gain confidence and understanding of how to connect with people.
Because of changing the narratives I told myself and a lot of hard work, I got my Associate’s Degree for Transfer in Mathematics in 2018. I have volunteered for more than 200 hours at different community events by now. I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Mathematics last year in spite of the learning constraints of COVID-19 lockdowns. Additionally, I now have friends that I talk to regularly and a life that I’m proud of living. While I’m still young and have a lot of adventures I’ve yet to explore and live out, I’m confident that the skills, experience, and life lessons I’ve learned along the way will give me the strength and drive to take on whatever lies ahead for me.
As for the future, I’m currently working on my Master’s Degree in Statistics so that I could become an educational researcher. Being a recent college student with a learning disability allows me to empathize with underprivileged and disabled students, adding a human touch to the data I collect and analyze.
I’m also working on developing my podcasting and Instagram project called “The Autism Experience”. This is a place where I share my experiences as an autistic student and listen to stories from others about their experiences. Come follow me on Instagram @theautismexperience to keep in touch with me! You can also find my podcast “The Autism Experience” on YouTube, Spotify, Anchor, and wherever podcasts are available!
If there’s one thing I can take from my life’s journey thus far, it’s that while we can’t control what happens to us or what people think of us, we can control what we choose to believe in. The moment we exercise that control is the moment we take back power over our own lives and the narratives we tell ourselves.
About the Author
Ken Vu is an autistic man with a passion for connecting with people and doing community service. His love for human connection stems from his struggles with loneliness growing up and wanting to help others achieve their personal goals. When not studying in school or working, Ken enjoys baking cookies, grabbing milk tea and poke with friends and family, and exploring new restaurants and hiking spots.