British Columbia

UVic student says his own autism inspired honours psychology research

Patrick Dwyer went public with his autism at 18. Now he's pursuing a PhD to better research the subject.

Patrick Dwyer is graduating from UVic with honours and intends to to complete a PhD in psychology

Patrick Dwyer is graduating from the University of Victoria with honours - and going on to pursue a PhD in developmental psychology at the University of California-Davis. (CBC)

As a person living with autism, Patrick Dwyer said that he was always interested in psychology — but didn't imagine he would eventually graduate with an honours degree in the subject.

"I won't say that I went into UVic knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life — but I did keep coming back to that autism component and to psychology in general," he said. 

"When you're looking at autism, it's something that is still relatively new and we still see relatively poor outcomes. That's something that to me needs work, and so that's something that I kept returning to."

He said his own experiences with autism are in part what inspired his research.

"As somebody from that community I'm seeing the difficulties that people are having in schools and transitioning to adulthood." 

Pursuing a PhD

Dwyer said his own transition into adulthood was characterized by the same roadblocks faced by most people.

After a rocky few years in middle school, when loud, bright classrooms overwhelmed his senses, he opted to complete a distance education program instead.

Because of his interest in autism, he was in contact with autism researchers even before beginning his undergraduate degree, including Prof. Jim Tanaka, who eventually supervised Dwyer's research at the University of Victoria.

Dwyer is now graduating with honours and plans to pursue a PhD in developmental psychology at the University of California-Davis, a school with a specialized centre for autism research.

Dwyer said he decided to speak openly about his autism diagnosis at the age of 18, and recognizes the potential risks of speaking about it publicly. 

"In an employment situation that's something that could count against you, and I think that has in the past for me," he said.

"On the other hand if people are aware of that label then maybe they'd be understanding of things that otherwise they wouldn't understand."

With files from All Points West