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A Girl, Autism, and the Great Overtake

Life lessons I learned as a high school outcast

By Nikki AbelsonPublished 6 months ago 7 min read
A Girl, Autism, and the Great Overtake
Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

Being a young girl with autism wasn’t complex. With friends, I only needed someone to sit on the other end of the seesaw, kick the soccer ball back to me, or hand me their fives in Go Fish. It was easy.

There were no emotions. We shared the same goal of having fun all day, every day, until the street lights came on.

Not that I ever had a lot of friends. But the ones I did have were easy to be around. Probably because they were mostly boys, so there wasn’t much chatter going on anyway. Our only social rule was to play nice and not make anyone run home crying. That would get parents involved, and that’s a headache we didn’t need.

As a kid, friends didn’t want anything more from conversations. There were no unwritten rules, nothing hidden below the surface, and no subtext to conversations. I didn’t have to decipher what they actually meant if they said, “I don’t feel good. I can’t come out today.”

But it all drastically changed somewhere in my early teens, around the middle of 8th grade. Like Wile E. Coyote, they suddenly passed me up at supersonic speed and left me in their dust.

At the time, I had no clue how pivotal this event in my life would become.

I had been the precocious kid who, in terms of what was expected of me academically, was considerably ahead of the others. I was testing at high school levels in 4th grade.

Believe me, that is not a flex because it was relatively short-lived and held me back in the long run.

By freshman year, the other girls were social, involved in activities, talking on the phone constantly, sitting in groups at their lunch tables, shopping for clothes and makeup at the mall, and going to movies together to talk about cute boys and teenage girl things, whatever that was. When I was a child, I didn’t have to think.

Now, life was exhausting.

I didn’t like most of the things they liked. They didn’t want to ride bikes, hang out at the park, or drop quarters into the games at the arcade. Boys who were previously friends were teased for having a “girlfriend,” so they distanced themselves from me. And soon came the bullying for being different, and life descended further.

Every day at lunch, I’d try to hide in the bathroom, the library, or, with some luck, an empty classroom where no one would see me. I could pretend to be engrossed in my homework. Usually, I ate little more than a granola bar and a bag of candy so I could secretly eat my food on the down low.

The high school cafeteria was a no-go zone. It had everything I tried to avoid: long lines, bright fluorescent lights, newly waxed floors, and loud, obnoxious teenagers who talked about everyone who walked in. But the worst thing for a clumsy person like me was finding a place to sit while gingerly balancing my lunch tray.

No, I learned early on I would stay away at all costs.

Likewise, when not at school, I spent nearly all my time alone in my bedroom. So much so that the elderly lady next door, our self-appointed neighborhood watch, asked my mom if I still lived with the family because she hadn’t seen me outside our house in months.

Music and movies were the only things I had in common with other girls. And at least with music, it became my special interest.

It was a tough time, but I pressed on. I found things that interested me and clung to those until my circumstances changed. One way or another, I knew I’d eventually go off to college. That was my glimmer of hope for the future, though I was terrified because I knew it would bring a tremendous upheaval to my loner lifestyle. Still, it held more promise than where I was. They say the grass is always greener —and at least it has the potential to be.

So, here I am today. Thirty-something years later, and I still don’t feel like a grown-up. I can be responsible, pay bills, and refrain from breaking the law, but that’s mostly out of a sense of practicality and justice. Why purposely do things to make your life more difficult?

There are two types of people in this world. Either you look back fondly at your high school years and reminisce about the carefree days you spent hanging out with friends, goofing off in the cafeteria, sucking up to teachers, and planning for homecoming and prom, or you wish you could have hit the Skip Ahead button for four years and zapped those years right out of existence.

But even if you don’t have that Skip Ahead button, you can find your path through it. It doesn’t matter if you went to high school 30 years before me or go 30 years from now.

There will always be the popular kids everyone admires and would like to befriend. And there will always be the outcasts that the rest of the school barely knew existed. That’s the reality of being part of a forced social group.

Almost all of us know someone who went through a similar experience, if not you or someone close to you. It’s not like Hollywood movies where the outcasts are geniuses who become popular themselves, or they conspire to get revenge on the jocks and cheerleaders in some uproarious stunt. That’s not real life.

I’m not thrilled that my teenage years went like that, especially not at the time, but I am grateful for what those years taught me.

I took with me several life lessons that I apply to my life all these years later:

Find at least one thing you love and stick with it. If it’s music, like me, or if it’s horror movies, horses, anime, video games, reading, volleyball, or whatever you dream of spending all your time doing, it can give you a break from your everyday troubles.

Find your people if that’s something you want. I made “in-school” friends with a few kids at different times, which helped the days go by faster. If you want to find friends, join a sports or drama club, volunteer, or sign up for an activity you enjoy. Find people who understand and accept you. If you’re really fortunate, they’ll still be in your life 30 years later.

Remember that nothing stays the same forever. Unless you fail a grade, you only have four years of high school. For the bullied, lonely, or just plain awkward, you won’t be in that place for long. There’s a firm expiration date on your time spent in those classes and with those people. What seems like the biggest mistake or embarrassment doesn’t feel as horrendous as time passes. At whatever stage you are in life, when things get too bad, just breathe and take it one day at a time until your situation changes.

Always believe your best days are ahead. The bright side is you didn’t peak in high school. I know classmates who did, and I feel sorry for them today. Occasionally, the memories may come flooding back but don’t dwell on the past. If it caused you trauma, you can work through it on your own or with therapy. Keep your head up, and look forward to the future.

Never forget how you felt when you were treated poorly. Don’t let it slide whenever you encounter someone else going through it. Sometimes, we just need a friend to help us through the day, even if it’s a total stranger who lends us a hand or gives us a kind word.

Every experience teaches us something about ourselves and the world we exist in. That may be the biggest lesson of all. Life changes, whether we want it to or not, and we have to roll with it.

But, hopefully, even at a young age, we’re observant enough to find the silver lining where we can.

The original story was posted on Medium


About the Creator

Nikki Abelson

Writer, motivator, and overthinker. Former designer. I share personal stories of autism, ADHD, daily life, & self-improvement with a hint of humor. Find me at:

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