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‘Amazing’ student graduates from St Andrews

An inspirational young woman who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome aged 18 graduates from the University of St Andrews this week.

Dunfermline-born Katy MacGregor graduates today Friday (27 June 2008) with a degree in Theology.  Katy, 25, will be cheered on by two University members of staff who she describes as `always being there’ for her when she needed support over the last four years.

Katy was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which is often described as a ‘hidden disability’, while studying at Lauder College in Fife in 2001.  Though a secondary school music teacher suspected Katy might have the condition, up until the point of being diagnosed, Katy had what she describes as a reasonably `normal’ childhood.

Post-diagnosis, Katy suffered a drop in confidence, but chose to continue at college and, against all odds, gained an HND in Social Sciences.  In 2004 she took the next `logical step’ of applying to University – describing St Andrews as the `best option all round’ and a way of gaining independence away from home.

As a way of settling into her new environment before the majority of students arrived, Katy took up a place in the University’s Summer School, before beginning her four year degree in Theology.  She will graduate on Friday with a 2.2 Master of Theology degree.

Speaking before the ceremony, she said, “To be graduating now is rather bitter-sweet for me.  This place has been home and family to me for so long now.  It does mean, however, that I have achieved what I set out to achieve, and naturally, I am pleased at having managed it.  However, I do find it sad knowing that this period of my life is over.  I enjoyed it so much overall – and the known is always easier to deal with than the unknown.  However, I am aware that it is time for me to face a new challenge, and in some ways I am ready for it.”

Asperger’s is one of several autism spectrum disorders (ASD) characterised by difficulties in social interaction, and those with the condition find it difficult coping with changing circumstances.

Katy commented, “Asperger’s is really just a way to describe who I am – that my character is different to that of other people.  The easiest way to describe it is that when facing challenges I had a great deal of stress to combat – things which other students would find less difficult in some cases.  Yet I benefited as things that others found stressful, I was able to forget about being stressed about – exams being a key area – I might be slightly worried in the lead up to them, but as soon as I was in the situation, I forgot about being stressed and was able to focus on the job in front of me.”

Though socialising is difficult for Katy, her involvement with various children’s charities (Scripture Union, Families First, the Guiding Association, and Urban Saints) ensured she got out and spent time with others with similar interests.  Helping others with their problems also  helped her take the focus away from any stress she was feeling herself.

During her time at St Andrews, Katy spent four years in student halls, which she describes as an `interesting’ experience, and coped with hall life by developing her own strategies to ease her through any difficulties.  Throughout Katy’s degree, she was supported by the University’s Disability Adviser Emma Browne.

Emma said, “For a person who, due to her a diagnosis of Asperger’s, should not really be able to adapt, Katy has done a marvellous job at doing just that. Indeed, Katy has worked hard at having a very full university experience both academically and socially. I firmly believe that Katy is leaving the University a changed person. She is by far more confident in her own abilities and she has developed key life skills which will remain with her.

“Katy has challenged the stereotypes that exist for young adults who are on the AutisticSpectrum. She has shown academic and support staff that someone with AS can have a sense of humour, can make friends and can participate fully in all aspects of university life.”

Through Emma, Katy was encouraged to apply to Fife Council Social Work’s Direct Payments Scheme, a form of self directed support which allowed Katy to hire a carer.  She took on one of Emma’s colleagues in Student Support, Maggie Winton, who carried out the role in her spare time.

Maggie spent around 15 hours a week with Katy, helping her with the `challenges and stresses of every day life’.  She said, “The difference from when I first started working with Katy three years ago to the young lady who graduates this week is quite amazing.   She was very timid, unsure of herself and others, and very much dependent on her father to sort things out for her.   Now, she is a mature, well-adjusted, independent young lady.   I am immensely proud of her and will be sure to have tissues with me on Friday when I watch her graduate.

“I feel a huge sense of loss, but also great pride in her achieving not only her degree, but also moving to share with a friend to live independently rather than return to the family home.   I have no intention of losing contact with Katy even when I am no longer her employee.”

It’s been an eventful week for Katy – through Maggie’s encouragement, she has been taking driving lessons and passed her test first time on Tuesday.

Katy commented, “I am well aware that I would not have got through all the challenges that the last four years has thrown at me without the support of both Emma and Maggie, and the others I know at Student Support Services.  They gave me both the tools that I needed, and training in how to use them.  If I achieve a job in an area that I would like to in the future then it will be largely down to them, their understanding, and the way that they have helped me deal with those challenges I have chosen to face.”

“I hope that I will be able to gain employment which will include supporting other people as this is something I enjoy doing, and after so much has been done for me I want to be able to pay that back by helping others,” she said.

ENDS

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Gayle Cook, Press Officer on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email gec3@st-andrews.ac.uk
Ref:  Katy MacGregor 260608
View the latest University press releases at www.st-andrews.ac.uk

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