Mental Health Hero

Growing up, Ardhika Aziz, CLA ’20, loved Japanese culture, especially anime and JDM, a modified sports car subculture. He longed to visit Japan, and was given the chance when he enrolled at Temple University, Japan Campus, during his sophomore year. The experience was a profoundly positive one. He took language classes, traveled all across Tokyo and made a group of friends, with whom he has stayed in touch. 

Photo credit: Ryan S. Brandenberg, CLA ’14

World wide web

For Aziz, who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), living abroad for an entire semester was a meaningful milestone. It wasn’t clear when he first applied to Temple if he would live on campus or would need to commute from his childhood home in West Chester, Pennsylvania. So, managing all of the logistics of studying abroad in Japan was a big step for him. 

“I did not feel lost there and I was able to just dive into the culture,” Aziz said. “Temple provided me with a lot of adventures, and 2018 was just the best year of my life.”

A social network

While at Temple, Aziz studied neuroscience, learning about connections in the human brain. All the while, he made important connections of his own. He got involved with student groups that had a particularly strong impact on him: Social Xchanges, a group for students with social and communication challenges, with which he remains involved; the Asian Student Association and an Asian-Interest Fraternity, Delta Chi Psi Fraternity Inc., among others.

These experiences were new for Aziz, who hadn’t yet found communities based around these identities.

“My high school didn’t have autism support or Asian student groups, or even awareness of those groups,” he remembered. “I’m glad I chose Temple because it represents people of different backgrounds, both in terms of ethnicity and neurodiversity.” 

Ardhika at a Glance

Community connections

When he was younger, Aziz thought autism was something he’d grow out of, and didn’t talk about it or share his experiences around it. Now, it’s woven throughout all of his work. 

He’s currently excelling in the master’s in biomedical sciences program at Thomas Jefferson University, exploring the neurobiological factors of hypersensitivity to loud noises and environments that play a role in the diagnosis of ASD. 

Aziz also works as a community autism peer specialist with Mental Health Partnerships, a community-based mental health service provider in Center City Philadelphia. He works with a caseload of young adults who have been diagnosed with ASD, and meets with them on a weekly basis to help them achieve goals, like finding a job or building more social interactions.

“As peer specialists, we have that mutual connection,” he said. “I find it satisfying … I want to be able to support other individuals with ASD in any way I can. 

“And if I ever make it back to Japan, I’d like to find opportunities to support people with ASD there, as well,” he added.