It was in the middle of summer right before I started my freshman year of high school and I was about to turn 15 years old. I can still remember when I heard the term “autism” when my parents received the news from special educational diagnosticians at Scottish Rite Hospital. At the time, neither my parents nor I really understood what Asperger’s Syndrome (high-functioning autism), or autism was or what it meant. My parents had heard of it before but never really gave it much thought. They seemed a little puzzled and devastated due to the fact that I didn’t have traditional autistic traits. I remember my parents sitting me down along with my two younger brothers, who were getting very emotional to discuss it. I kind of dozed off, cutting off reality, puzzled, and not fully understanding to what was happening.
I started asking myself questions:
Why did this happen to me?
What exactly is Asperger’s or autism?
Was I born with it?
Am I going to die from this?
Can it be cured?
All of these questions were racing in my mind, not knowing what to think or how to deal with it.
I think that when people hear the word autism, they discriminate and most people refer to the film Rainman. Ignorant individuals automatically assume that all autistics cannot survive in the world and cannot be productive or successful but the truth is, we can. I am one of the many examples and have proven to those who have wronged me or had very little faith or no confidence in me that I can and I have succeeded. I feel more comfortable and proud in my own skin and who I am and what I became. I want people to look at me as a person, not my diagnosis.
Now I never considered myself socially adept and was not very communicative in school but I knew that I was very different from others my age. I wouldn’t say I was extroverted child, I was just out there in my own dream world, not dealing well with reality. I can remember medical diagnosticians recommending my parents to put me on heavy medication and even suggesting I be placed in an institution due to the fact that I was so far behind academically and socially. I believe the reason behind this was that they didn’t want to waste their time or money to even bother helping my family or myself; they just saw me as another “statistic." I’m so thankful that my parents fought the education system and taking their advice, otherwise I’d still be there today, not knowing what would become of me.
It’s always has been an awkward fit for me but as I defiantly grew older, I have learned to cope and to deal with it better. I have learned how to imitate or watch how other people behave; that way I didn’t seem too weird. I guess it is that I just wanted to be included and not so left out. The way Asperger’s has affected me can be very overwhelming at times. I’m still very sensitive to loud noises or bright lights. When there’s too much stimulation around me, I tend to become overwhelmed. I still struggle or am not comfortable in situations in which I have no control over or cannot escape from, such as being in front of a large room with a lot of people whom I don’t know or people talking all at once or even starting a new job.
Driving is probably my biggest fear and still to this day I struggle with it. I’m going to be honest about it, I don’t like driving. I tend to have severe anxiety or panic attacks. There’s just too much stimulation going on all around me; too many cars moving at once. The same thing happens whenever people are talking to me all at the same time. Instead, I’m more comfortable in small groups or one-on-one, which is easier for me to handle.
As a child, I had to learn social and communication skills and I'm grateful I had siblings to help with it. At school and also at home, following the rules and having good manners were very important, which I also had to learn. One of the ways that my parents helped with communication and social skills was that we did a lot of role playing. For instance, when I had to start applying for jobs and when it came to the interviewing process, my mother would usually do one-on-one practice with me, have me stand in front of a mirror, or what I found really helpful was I researched online on what to do and what not to do during an interview.
Life can be lonely at times, but I have become used to it. Viewing nature or when I paint always seems to comfort me whenever I’m alone. Sometimes, I find it easier to be alone. For me, it was always better to be away from negative people. Subconsciously, from to time, I have allowed myself to fail or not do well and feel bad about myself when not interacting well with others. It’s almost feels like I’ve been too afraid to interact with others and knowing what to expect. Looking back all those years ago, I primarily kept to myself because I wasn’t having a lot of social success although my grades were passing. I was the awkward, quiet little girl who kept to herself. Throughout the years I had trouble making friends and keeping them. For me, I tend to be friends with anyone and everyone. I prefer not to place myself in a group or groups to see where I belong.
One of the many great things about Asperger’s is that I have an incredible memory, which comes in handy for studying or just when I feel like reading something that interests me. I am someone who is a visual thinker; the way I tend to learn things is by thinking in pictures, as well as an auditory learner. To be honest, I like the way I think because it allows me to be free with my thoughts and I find it easier for me to understand what is being said and I can then comprehend what I had just learned. Now as a young kid, I thought everybody thought in pictures. I didn’t know that everybody has their own way of thinking.
Some of my strengths were always revolving in anything artistic such as art classes, biology or social studies/history because it always involved pictures, diagrams and interesting people. Although I was very good at certain subjects, I always seemed to have problems in math and reading. When it came to reading and writing, I really had to teach myself how to read more fluently when listening my mother’s old records books and learning how to write in print as well as in cursive.
At times, I always felt like I wasn’t smart enough and I started to doubt myself. My parents were great advocates during my childhood and they still are. If it weren’t for them fighting against the my school district in giving me the best education, I wouldn’t be here writing this. Who knows what would’ve happened to me, where I’ve ended up or what would’ve become of me. Although my family means well and I love them, I still feel like they don’t fully understand what it’s like to live in my shoes.
I have dedicated former teachers throughout the years as well as parents and family who fought for me so that I could receive the best education out there. And in the end, I was lucky. All of these things worked for me. Everybody worked hard and always made sure that I engaged. They knew I was “different but not less”. In a way, I have a gift. I can see the world in news ways. I could see detail that other people were blind to. My parents push me to be more self-sufficient but I had to push myself first if I wanted to become a successful and independent young woman.
Thanks for taking the time to read my stories! My journal series is a little personal but I wanted to get my experience out there to let others know that you are not alone. So again, thank you for taking the time to visit this page! I appreciate every single one of you, and hope that life is treating you well. Tootles!