A mature student’s perspective

Academic Life

Articles for students and families transitioning into higher education.

A mature student’s perspective

  • Colm McNamee
  • 18/05/2021
  • 2 minutes read

My name is Colm McNamee and I’m autistic. While this is my primary diagnosis, I’m also a recovering alcoholic, I’ve been told I have ADHD, OCD, PTSD, dyslexia and depression. So to say my Autism has had an impact on my mental health and the quality of my life would be the understatement of a lifetime. 

The two overriding emotions that I have experienced for the majority of my life have been shame and fear, but like many of my actions over the last few years, partaking in a Master’s programme with the National College of Ireland has been a very positive learning experience.

One of the first things I remember my mother being told about me in school was the fact that Colm was slow (this was 1980’s polite code for mental retardation). And for the next 30 odd years this was the label that stuck, there was nothing to be done, and no point investing any time or energy into my development. The most chilling thing about all this was the fact that they got me to believe it too.  

For the record, my cognitive profile can best be described by the label of Duel (or Twice) exceptional learner, which means I am both Autistic and Intellectually Gifted.  My IQ profile is so scattered as to be uninterpretable, and is called the frustration profile for good reason. In my case, both my gifts and deficits combined to mask each other to a large extent, so while I was struggling in some areas, my natural intelligence was allowing me to compensate to a large degree. By the time I did my Leaving Cert, I was no longer coping, I failed most of my exams, I had no real friends, and while I was well known, I was not well liked, and at this stage, I had no idea why.

One of the more interesting things I have learned in my life is the Thomas Theorem, which simply states that “if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”. This simple statement is one of the cornerstones of sociology and brings me to my next point, it would be my opinion that autism is predominantly viewed as a disability rather than merely a different type of intelligence.  

By constantly trying to remediate my deficits, the time and effort was never put into exploring my extraordinary gifts in any number of areas that might have materially impacted on the quality of my life.

This started to change when I attend the National College of Ireland as an under graduate in 2006, where for the first time I got the supports I needed to excel, and while there have been many twists and turns along the way, the journey has made me all the stronger for its challenges and very proud of the person I have become.


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