When he was 8-years-old, Jeffrey Zide, CSUN journalism major, was ushered into a doctor’s office and told he was different than most children he knew.
Zide, 21, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that is characterized by cognitive delays and difficulty socializing, according to the Autism Research Institute.
In middle school, Zide said he wallowed in a “Why me?” phase and was reluctant to socialize because he felt like he didn’t fit in.
“When people hear the term Asperger’s, they automatically assume I’m slow,” Zide said. “But I’m just as cognizant as everyone else.”
Zide has a form of high-functioning autism, he said. He has an above-average IQ and did not experience delayed language development traditionally associated with the disorder.
“I don’t have a problem putting sentences together,” Zide said. “But Asperger’s does affect my social skills and how I interact with people. Sometimes, I can’t read situations and I’m not sure how to convey conversation.”
Zide also has slight attention deficit disorder, or ADD, and dysgraphia, a learning disorder that makes it difficult for him to read his own handwriting.
But Zide’s disabilities never hinder him from pushing forward or pursuing a career in journalism.
“I think my disability has made me stronger – a strong writer even,” Zide said. “I’m visually oriented, so when I’m writing, I write what I’m picturing and how I’m feeling. This type of storytelling helps my reader connect to my vision and get a sense of who I am.”
Zide writes for both the Daily Sundial and CSUN’s KCSN radio. He also is running for his second term as A.S. senator of Arts, Media and Communication and a devout member of the LGBTA organization on campus.
Following his graduation in 2013, Zide aspires to become a photojournalist and receive his Ph.D in psychology, which is his current minor.
But despite his strong work ethic and long list of academic achievements, Zide harbors insecurities about landing a job.
“In the back of my mind, I always feel like employers are going to pass on me because of my Asperger’s. That’s illegal, of course, but they can always find ways around it.”
He feels incredibly fortunate to have been diagnosed at an early age, he said. It’s given him years of support from his friends and family, which has made him more comfortable with who he is.
“I’ll never be normal I guess,” Zide said. “But I’m finding there’s really no such thing as being normal.”
Growing up, Madeleine Pumilia always sat in the back row trying to go unnoticed by her teachers.
The 20-year-old CSUN junior and journalism major was diagnosed with dyslexia, when she was a freshman at La Cañada High School.
Dyslexia is a learning disability that makes it difficult to process words and visually arrange letters, according to the U.S. National Institute of Health.
“High school sucked,” Pumilia said. “The teachers weren’t too helpful, and they really didn’t have the resources or patience to deal with dyslexic students.”
Pumilia said the only reason she got through high school was because of her twin sister, Amanda.
“I really can’t thank her enough,” Pumilia said. “She would take notes for me in school, and sometimes, she’d spend her nights helping me with my homework.”
Pumilia found solace at CSUN when she signed up with the DRES center her freshman year.
“Everyone was so friendly and helpful. They even knew me by name,” Pumilia said. “At CSUN, I finally feel like I’m getting the attention I deserve and need”
Pumilia mostly takes advantage of the DRES’ note-taking service and private testing rooms, luxuries she never experienced throughout her educational career.
“CSUN has made my life so much easier. All of my teachers and the DRES advisors really make me feel comfortable.”
Despite her difficulty reading and processing certain words, Pumilia said her passion in life is writing.
“I didn’t choose journalism because I wanted to overcome my dyslexia,” Pumilia said. “I just love writing and talking to people, and to be honest, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
Pumilia is a staff writer with Crescenta Valley Weekly and she’s involved with the CSUN journalism department, contributing to both KCSN radio and CSUN talk show “On Point.”
There are many common misconceptions regarding dyslexia, including dyslexics are less intelligent, Pumilia said.
“People with dyslexia are not stupid,” Pumilia said. “It really bothers me when people are so ignorant about it.”
Now confident in her abilities, Pumilia aspires to mentor dyslexic teens who struggle with coursework and self esteem.
“To be honest, I had a hard time growing up with dyslexia, and I don’t want young people out there to have to go through what I did.”
While most graduating seniors are desperately scouring for further work experience to add to their resumes before they enter the ‘real world,’ CSUN senior Jessica Goodman has already culminated six esteemed internships.
The 22-year-old broadcast journalism major began her internship search when she was only a junior in high school and has worked for companies such as KTLA, KIIS-FM radio and the E! channel.
But, due to her dyslexia, this self-proclaimed “go-getter” grew up feeling unaccomplished and ashamed.
When she was only a toddler in pigtails, Goodman’s first-grade teacher noticed she often mixed up numbers and certain symbols.
Countless doctor visits later, Goodman was branded disabled, but none of the professionals she met with could properly diagnose her.
“I knew there was something wrong with me, but I didn’t know what,” Goodman said.
Uncertainty continued to loom over Goodman in middle school, when she was put into a special-elective class with other students with disabilities and denied her request to take Spanish with the “normal kids.”
“I felt like I didn’t belong with the students with disabilities,” she said. “Some of them had serious mental conditions, and I didn’t see myself that way.”
Goodman was also denied the opportunity to take Advanced Placement courses in high school, and time after time, she was reminded of her puzzling disability.
It wasn’t until her freshman year at CSUN that she discovered she had dyslexia. Goodman found help managing her dyslexia from special-education experts with the DRES center.
“I was like ‘Finally, now I know.’ It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders,” Goodman said.
Through internships, Goodman challenged herself and worked in fields she was often told were out of reach.
“When I learned that Albert Einstein, Steven Spielberg and some of my other idols had dyslexia, I stopped caring and started realizing I could be just as successful.”
These days Goodman can be spotted chatting with comedian Joel McHale and walking the set of E! channel’s “The Soup,” where she recently landed a job as a production validator. Goodman is responsible for scheduling, preparing live tapings and working red carpet events.
But her ultimate dream job is to become television producer at a major network.
“I think to make something of yourself you have to be challenged,” Goodman said. “If you don’t prove anyone wrong, you’re not really being challenged and where’s the fun in that?”
As Quan Luong was watching television and hanging out with his roommate on a typical weeknight, he unexpectedly collapsed and convulsed in an epileptic seizure.
The April 2011 incident left the former CSUN student with brain damage and mild memory loss.
Luong has suffered from three seizures in his lifetime, the first dating back to when he was an infant.
“I don’t really have a pattern or anything, that’s not how epilepsy works,” Luong said. “I don’t know when they’re coming or if I’ll even get another one.”
Following his seizure in 2011, the journalism major planned to take a year sabbatical from CSUN to recuperate, but he never returned due to loss of too many units, he said.
“I’ve been reading up on CSUN lately, and all this talk about class freezes and tuition going up has me worried,” Luong said. “To be honest, I doubt I’m likely to return.”
But while Luong attended CSUN, he felt strong a strong sense of community, he said. He was often surrounded by friends and seen roaming the Manzanita Halls in his favorite Lakers jersey and cap.
Luong also felt heavily supported by the CSUN’s staff, including his chess opponent David Blumenkrantz, professor of journalism, and DRES center adviser.
“Everyone at DRES was very friendly,” Luong said. “I encourage all students with disabilities to sign up as soon as they can because it’s really one of the best departments on campus.”
Luong is currently unemployed and lives with his grandmother in Costa Mesa, where he said he is struggling to find a full-time job.
Luong doesn’t feel his disability affects his work ethic at all, but he sometimes worries employers are judging him based on his epileptic history.
“Sometimes, I’ll be in an interview, and I’ll get a vibe. I can tell the employer’s thinking, ‘Hmm, there’s something wrong with this guy,’” Luong said. “Fifty percent of the time, I’ll just be honest about my disability, but I don’t want that to be all they see me for.”