Alix Generous is unlike most college seniors at the University of Vermont. She lives in family housing; although she is single, doesn’t drink because of her fragile body chemistry; and won’t go clubbing because the noises in bars are likely to freak her out. The 21-year-old neuroscience and psychology student was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as a teen. Her path has not been an easy one, but “easy” is not an option for anyone who falls within the autistic spectrum.
From an early age, as diagnoses were sought, Generous was put on a plethora of pharmaceuticals, including anti-psychotics, which prompted adverse side effects and took a toll on her physically. “It’s true I was like a devil child, but the misdiagnoses were a disaster,” she said. The effects were also debilitating in other ways. “I don’t remember the majority of my childhood.” While other kids pursued interests such as music or sports, Alix’s schedule of therapy and doctor’s appointments prevented what most families take for granted.
“Every individual deserves happiness and functionality in this world. Everybody’s mind is different — there is no ideal brain,” she said. Besides maintaining her studies, Generous works in the research of autism and schizophrenia, including identification of genetic factors, effects of environmental toxins, and how brain mapping could prove key to restructuring behavioral patterns.
She is also a public speaker, advocating mental diversity and promoting a culture of tolerance. She draws upon her personal experience and at the same time considers a larger issue: addressing our survival as a species.
Generous’s unique way of thinking led to the honor of presenting her work before the United Nations in fall 2012. Her paper “Quorum Sensing and Coral Reefs” outlines a theory of bacterial communication in microbiomes and offers a possible solution to threatened ecosystems. She continues to explore issues of sustainability, plus effects of climate change, interfacing with the Scripps Research Institute and biotech communities in La Jolla and Silicon Valley.
Generous’s academic achievements are considerable for a typical student and herculean for one with Asperger’s. “I have the academic brain and am a very hard worker,” she said, “but my mind does not work with the current educational system.” Most professors post class curriculum/material with online lectures and PowerPoint presentations, which are a nightmare for someone like Generous. She describes her ideal learning environment as one where she speaks one-on-one daily with professors about the topics she finds endlessly fascinating.
In spite of these hurdles, her goal is to continue in research and earn a doctorate degree in clinical psychology, targeting biobehavioral issues to develop effective pharmaceuticals.
Believing it’s never too late to have a happy childhood, Generous finds time for that as well by dancing, playing piano and guitar, writing music, and being with friends.
“I can’t fix others who are like me, but for those facing mental-health adversity, hope is the first step. Every individual should have an environment where they can express who they are. We need to develop that community of kindness.”
Alix Generous is the keynote speaker at Girls Inc. of Carpinteria’s “Women of Inspiration” luncheon Monday, May 19, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. For info and tickets, call (805) 684-6364 or visit girlsinc-carp.org.