Caty Collins grew up knowing her autism set her apart.
“People who know me well know that I have been successful because of my autism, not despite it,” said Collins, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in applied linguistics. “My passion and intensity have kept me going, failure after failure after failure and doubter after doubter.”
Though her mother was always supportive — she comes from a family of teachers — Collins said she had doctors and teachers over the years who told her she would never graduate from high school, drive a car or live independently.
Collins, 23, said it took a lot of work to prove them wrong and stay on track in college.
“It’s a constant struggle for me to just sit in a chair and not shake my leg or be moving, just to appear ‘normal’ to you, to come to class and participate and be around other people without being overstimulated,” she said.
When Collins was 14, her older sister died unexpectedly. Honoring her memory has been important for Collins.
“We were very close,” she said. “That’s been a big part of my journey too, mental health and creating a life I want to live without my sister in it. I don’t think I would be here today if that hadn’t happened to her. I wouldn’t have had the motivation. I wouldn’t have had a reason to better myself.”
Collins plans to become a speech language pathologist or a therapist to help children with communication disorders and non-verbal autistic people with American Sign Language. While she’s waiting to hear back from the graduate schools she’s applied to, Collins has also created a Plan B by getting accepted into the Peace Corps with an offer to teach English in Jamaica.
“I’m a sixth-generation teacher,” she said. “It’s in my blood.”
Story by Randy Trammell
Photo by Carolyn Richardson