Sports & Wellbeing

The Language of Photography

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13 November 2020

A student with Asperger syndrome (also known as Asperger’s) uses photography to help him overcome communication challenges among others.

What is it like trying to find an internship or develop friendships when one has difficulties in social interactions and non-verbal communication? Anthony*, reveals how photography restores his peace of mind in the face of challenging situations. 


Taking a study break to collect a series of fascinating and beautiful insects at NUS Kent Ridge Campus. Photos by Anthony*, February 2019.

1.  As a student with Asperger’s, how do you manage your medical condition while pursuing your studies at the same time?

I learn to be proactive in asking for help when I hit a roadblock. My greatest challenge is to come forward when I face a problem as I prefer to avoid social interactions. During my freshman year, I had difficulties navigating my student life and academics. Fortunately, I am able to turn to the staff at the Disability Support Office (DSO) at OSA and Department to better understand how to improve myself and my situation.

My academic goals, despite putting in a lot of effort, are not met and I become demoralised. For example, 40 positions internship positions which I had applied to, turned me down. I then approached DSO for help and they reached out to SGEnable who was able to find me an employer.

2. Why does photography as a hobby bring you joy?

It is a solidarity yet adventurous hobby that rewards patience and persistence. It is also an activity that is full of surprises. It takes effort (and luck) to find something interesting in a park and more so to successfully approach it to take a good photo. For example, one of the best places to find cool insects is at Kent Ridge Road. The joy of discovering is a healthy experience decoupled from academic rigour.

“The joy of discovering and the thrill of success is a healthy experience decoupled from the rigours of academic work.”

 - says Anthony as he speaks to his peaceful yet adventurous photo taking hobby.


3.  What tips can you offer to peers to create a friendlier NUS experience to those that have Asperger’s?

I would like to give three tips:

To non-Asperger students,

i) We (students with Asperger’s) can be a bit reluctant to approach you to start a conversation. It helps that you can be proactive by being the first to start the conversation. We can be a bit slow to realise the social environments of others, so it helps that you say things in a way that make it clear so there is no misunderstanding.

To Asperger's students,

ii) Try to adapt to NUS life, and don’t be afraid of asking others for help. You need to be aware of your concerns. Write down these concerns to streamline your thoughts so you know what to say if you want to approach DSO or your Department or School for help.

iii) Take time to befriend others in your class. You can always ask them if you prefer to study in a group. It's all right if you are not an ‘A’ student, what matters is finding out what you don't know.  Ask your Profs if you have a question.

My biggest academic challenge is not the subject  difficulty, rather how to get the Profs to help me understand it better. The more questions you ask, the more comfortable you'll be at this social activity.


What is Asperger’s?

Asperger's is a medical condition, milder than autism, where one has difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests. Today, Asperger's is no longer a separate condition, and forms part of a broader category called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).


*Name and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.