California State University, Long Beach
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Feeling “Lucky” Despite Autism

Published: April 1, 2015

Logan Wainner looks and acts pretty much like your average college student, but he’s not. He has a disability.

“Some people call it autism, but originally I called it Asperger’s. Either way is fine,” he insists.

Whatever you call it, he’s clearly not letting the disability stand in the way of his success. And, believe it or not, despite his disability, Wainner considers himself fortunate.

“To be honest, I feel a little lucky because even though I have characteristics of autism, I have a better understanding of it which helps me work my way through my challenges,” said Wainner, who was raised in the high desert and now calls Apple Valley home. “When I was younger, I didn’t really know what was going on around me and then, when I did learn what I had, I decided I was going to prove people wrong by challenging the odds.”

And challenge the odds he has.

He considers himself a “super senior,” having transferred to CSULB after attending Barstow Community College and Victor Valley College. He’s already earned two associate degrees—one in natural science and one in social science—the latter at the urging of his parents who felt it would help him deal with his disability.

“When I was younger, my disability was an obstacle because I was different and I didn’t know why. The most difficult part is the social aspect because when they talk about autism they see you as a loner. Sometimes people with autism like to go to a quiet place and study by themselves,” said Wainner, who noted his disability does indeed cause him to prefer to be in a small area and to stay within his own comfort zone. “I’ve made myself become social. I usually hang out with friends, go to dinner and just try to do normal things.”

Wainner’s decision to attend CSULB was shaped in great part by a visit to the Disabled Students Services (DSS) office while he was going through the application process.

“That kind of tipped the scales for me to come here,” he said. “I met Peter Perbix and he has been like the best counselor I have ever had. He really helped me with how to study and how to approach certain classes. He’s like a parent outside of the home.”

“He’s a great kid,” said Perbix, the coordinator for Support Services and Advising in DSS. “He’s very enthusiastic and always has a smile on his face, so he has a very positive attitude.”

Wainner also credits his transition into the CSULB campus to the LIFE Project, a support group for students with autism that meets every Friday in the University Student Union. It’s a place where they discuss ways to better themselves in relationships, social life, connecting with a professor, or looking for a job/internship.

“Most of the students who attend are considered autistic,” said Wainner, pointing out some cases are more severe than others. “They have the same disability as I do so when I talk to people with autism I feel like an example of how someone with the disability can succeed in life.”

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PHOTO BY SHAYNE SCHROEDER
Logan Wainner

Soon to be 26 years old with at least two more years of college in front of him, Wainner isn’t concerned if others feel he’s not matriculating more quickly. He is unapologetically going through school at his own pace, obvious by the fact he spent roughly eight years in community college. He is now working on his bachelor’s degree in zoology, which he is confident he’ll attain.

“After I get done with my degree I want to try and work at the Aquarium of the Pacific as a mammologist for a few years,” he said, noting his favorite mammal/animal is the orca whale. “After that I would like to go to the San Diego Zoo and work as a zoologist there.”

And while he is extremely positive and clearly moving on a straight path forward, things haven’t always been easy for him. His own siblings—two sisters and a brother—shied away from him in the early years, but have developed a closer bond as have they have gotten older. His parents, though supportive, had their own concerns, one being that when he went out into the world people would take advantage of him.

“But that didn’t happen at all,” he said. “I haven’t had any issues like that. For me it’s been more difficult to determine who were the ‘good friends’ and then the ones you wanted to avoid.”

Wainner feels his autism is noticeable when he speaks as he skip words here and there, but he may be his own toughest critic, harshly critiquing something others may not even notice.

“When I get to class I feel just like I’m normal and when I speak out they don’t really see the autism,” he said. “I think they just see me as a normal student who is enthusiastic.” And he is.

And, one bit of advice from someone who himself has overcome quite a bit?

“If you have the drive to succeed in whatever you want to do, whether it’s zoology or something else, you just go for it,” he said. “Believe in yourself and in what you can do. How do you know if you’ll succeed or not if you never even try?”

That’s good advice, no matter who you are.