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In a room of her own

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By Wendi Wheeler ’06

Erika Hammerschmidt stands in her apartmentIn A Room of One’s Own, writer Virginia Woolf asserts that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” This critical feminist essay, first published in 1929, examines the obstacles that women writers faced in a literary tradition that was, at the time, dominated by men.

It was in a room of her own, a quiet space where she could remove herself from the distractions of college social life, that Erika Hammerschmidt ’04 began to write her first book while she was a student at Augsburg.

A private room is beneficial for students with Asperger’s syndrome (AS), an autism spectrum disorder that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate with others. Students with AS are characterized by poor social skills and restricted interests, but they typically possess great knowledge in specific areas and have extensive vocabularies.

Hammerschmidt was diagnosed with AS at the age of 11. “In some ways, having Asperger’s is a gift,” she said. “I have a good memory and a gift for logical thought. And I can get very focused.” As a student, however, Hammerschmidt said she was easily distracted and had trouble concentrating on schoolwork because of anxiety she felt about her social life.

Augsburg’s Center for Learning and Adaptive Student Services (CLASS) program, one of the student support resources available in the Gage Center for Student Success, helped Hammerschmidt deal with the social aspects of college. “They helped me get a single room, a ‘room of my own’ as Virginia Woolf wrote. It helped me get started on a lot of projects and stay focused on them.”

The ability to focus helped Hammerschmidt complete her book, Born on the Wrong Planet. First published in 2003, it is a collection of poems, short stories, and essays using alternating voices to illustrate the complexities of Hammerschmidt’s life with Asperger’s. A revised edition was published in 2008 by the Autism Asperger Publishing Company.

Since graduating from Augsburg, Hammerschmidt has continued writing in the Minneapolis apartment she shares with her husband, John Ricker, whom she met at Augsburg. In 2011, the couple co-authored Kea’s Flight, a science fiction novel that Hammerschmidt said is “like [George Orwell’s] 1984 for autistic people.”

The couple also speaks about living with autism spectrum diagnoses to special education students, teachers, and parents of children with autism. In 2005, they were featured speakers at the Annual Autism Society of Minnesota Conference.

Learn more about Hammerschmidt and her work.

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