I recently chatted with advocate, historian, librarian, and freelance writer Nils Skudra about his interest in the civil war and how he succeeded at University of California, Berkeley and University of North Carolina at Greensboro as an autistic college student. Nils majored in history with a focus in US History, specifically the civil war and reconstruction period at Berkeley. He then got a master's degree in library and information sciences as well as a mater's degree in history at UNC Greensboro. I hope you enjoy our interview transcript!
Jacqueline: Wow, so you've done a lot. I've really enjoyed reading articles that were written about you and your interest in the Civil War. It was fascinating to find out that this was something that you studied from a really, really young age. And, your mom has shared how she fed this passion in you, including the two of you driving 3,000 miles to Greensboro, North Carolina, so that you could do those studies.
Succeeding in college as an autistic student
Nils Skudra: I've actively pursued my passion for Civil War history through diligent study. And as a student, I received academic accommodations for both undergraduate and graduate school. These accommodations helped me with taking examinations and retaining information. Examples include:
When I was attending lectures, I would try to write down everything that the professors were saying and of course, that was a challenge for me. And so I got an accommodation for using a Livescribe pen to record lectures. I could play the lectures back and write down the information that I missed.
For taking examinations, I was given accommodations for using proctoring and having a separate room and right to use a computer for exams. And that helped me with being able to take exams in a more relaxed and secluded setting.
I also was given extended time for exams and that was helpful for me as well.
I also fostered closer relationships with my professors. I was able to get their support in learning subject matter, their assistance with stuff that was challenging for me, and so I felt that that played an important role in my academic skill success.
Not Allowing Executive Dysfunction to Stop Your Success
Jacqueline: Do you have any tips on how to handle the executive function side of it? When it was just you and that assignment, any tricks that you learned or tips that you would have for someone else who's feeling like they just can't figure it out?
Nils Skudra: I would recommend talking to disability student services at their college or university and telling them about the particular challenges they have with executive functioning and their need for academic accommodations that will fit the criteria for their particular challenges. They get accommodations for their particular disability or in their diverse condition. I think that will help them significantly with successfully adjusting to the coursework.
Also, reaching out to their professors and meeting with them individually during office hours. It demonstrates the student's interest in the subject matter and their interest in succeeding in the course. If they foster a good working relationship with their professor. The student can increase the professor's understanding of their particular needs. I think professor will go an extra mile in helping them to succeed in the class.
Helping professors help you
Jacqueline: That was really big, what you just said, that last sentence about them wanting to go the extra mile for you because they're going to number one, you're not a number anymore.
You're a human being who wants to succeed.
You are basically asking to tweak a couple of things so that you can really succeed. What I've discovered when I've been talking to professors is they don't always know how to help. They don't always understand neurodiversity or autism.
You knowing how they can help you, being your own advocate is huge.
Who knew about about the pen that you mentioned?
Nils Skudra: When I first started at UC Merced and I was registered with the Disability Student Services there, I told them about my difficulty with trying to write down everything the professors were saying during lectures, plus the content that they had up on PowerPoint presentations.
As I recall, they had told me about Livescribe pen as an option. And I did some research on that.
So I looked into getting that and they provided that as an accommodation for me so I could use Live Scribe Pen to record lectures.
I was also given notetaker accommodation. I had someone would take notes for me in the class.
Jacqueline: For that person who's shy about walking into the disability office or asking for those accommodations, do you have any advice?
Nils Skudra: I would recommend that they take that step. That they not feel shy or apprehensive about it. That you should assure them that disability student services are there to help them and provide them accommodations in order to ensure that they succeed.
You became your own advocate. And you're saying that's what the other individuals need to also become a self advocate. If I were to read your LinkedIn profile right now, it would also say that you're an advocate. And what do you mean by that?
Nils Skudra: I'm a spokesperson and freelance writer who addresses issues of autism awareness, and I write articles that highlight issues in the autism community, such as the portrayal of autistic protagonists in film and the demand for autistic.
Individuals and special needs individuals in the workplace and the particular strengths that they can bring to the workplace to their academic pursuits.
More on Nils Skudra
Read his work on "The Importance of an Academic Advisor in your Career Path"
Find his article "Does Hermione Granger have Autism or ADHD?"
Visit Art of Autism for short writings on "Dear Evan Hansen," Princess Margaret, "The Father," Jefferson Davis, "As We See It", "The In-Laws," Stonewall Jackson, "Jack and the Cockoo-Clock Heart,"The Reason I Jump,"Radio," "The King's Speech," a tribute to Black soldiers in the United States military and many more reviews!
The Civil War Center website.
The Tryon Palace website, which is a historic site in Newborn, North Carolina.
Calling all Civil War Buffs
Nils Skudra: I would recommend studying and pursuing their passion for it. If they have the opportunity to visit the East Coast, visit the Southern states in particular. Coming to the south, you have the opportunity to experience it first hand, which has been true for me.
Coming from California, which didn't really experience the war, I've had the opportunity to visit historic Civil war sites and battlefields here in North Carolina and in Virginia, and that's been a very profound experience for me.
The most meaningful place that I visited has been Appomattox Court House, where Lee surrendered to Grant. I went during a trip to Lynchburg, Virginia. It was really amazing experience for me because I had previously read a lot about it and seen documentaries that referenced it but never actually visited the site. That was really amazing and profound experience for me.
Creating Profound Experiences for Yourself
Nils Skudra: I highly recommend that autistic people actively pursue their areas of interest, subjects they are passionate about! You should not be shy or afraid to seek out accommodations from disability student services if they're in college or university, and they should not be afraid to make connections with their professors. I found that doing that, in my academic experience has been very helpful and beneficial to my academic success.
Jacqueline: I think it makes for a rich life, doesn't it? When you go for it, even when you feel the fear and you go for it. I thank you so much for hanging out with me today.