Since I mentioned in my “About Me” post that I, and my kids, are diagnosed on the spectrum, I thought it might be appropriate to have a category about autism.
In this particular post, I would like to address a little more about my own autism and some of my personal experiences.
First of all, I did not know about my autism for most of my life. I was apparently diagnosed around five years old. My mother didn’t see any reason that I should know about it. Her reasoning, “You had to learn to live with it anyway, so what was the point in telling you?” (I may discuss more about this conversation later. )
I did not know that I was autistic. But, I did know that I was different. Even at a young age, I knew that something “wasn’t right.” I didn’t fit in and nobody at school liked me. Everyone made fun of me and I didn’t understand why.
When I say everyone made fun of me, it is not an overdramatic statement. I would later on, during early adulthood run into an elementary school class mate that I hadn’t seen since 6th grade. Not only did she recognize me, but I made the comment that everyone made fun of me in school. She said, “Yeah, I know. Those are usually the people that everyone remembers.”
I remember that I tried to fit in, but no matter what I did, I just never could. Since I didn’t know about my autism, I came to the conclusion that something was wrong with me as a person.
Add to this that in the early years, learning did not come easily to me. Other kids would understand the lessons, but I was struggling. I even had to repeat kindergarten. Luckily, that was the only grade I repeated. I managed to scrape by enough to pass every other grade. This brought me to the conclusion that I was stupid, just like the other kids said.
Being classified as weird and stupid, lead me towards low self esteem and eventually depression. I felt like the reason I had no friends was because I wasn’t worthy of friends.
I wanted to fit in. I wanted friends. I remember wishing that I could be normal.
Sixth grade was a big turning point for me. We moved away from the school that I hated so much. The next school was a little better. I still didn’t really have friends, but noone knew me either. So, I was not picked on nearly as much.
I also started to mature more. I have always been fascinated by people. So, with my fresh start, I started to pay closer attention to my peers and tried to immulate them as best as I could.
It wasn’t easy. I thought they were all kind of weird. They said and did stuff that to me made no sense, whatsoever.
It didn’t work right away. I didn’t do so well at that school or the next. My third school, I finally managed to make a couple friends. By then, I was in the second semester of 8th grade.
Another thing happened to change my world a little bit. School became easier, well not math, but most of it. Suddenly, I started to excel at English. Most of my other courses became easier on me too.
I attribute this to a few things. The first is that at that point, a lot of learning became self study. Looking back, now knowing of my autism, I can only hypothesize that the material didn’t make sense to me for the same reason that people don’t make sense to me. It wasn’t taught in a way that my brain could comprehend. This is nothing against the teachers. My brain just doesn’t function the way most people’s brains do.
The second reason is that as I got older and matured, my brain felt like it worked better. As a young child, my brain often felt “sticky,” as if I knew the thought or information was in there, but I couldn’t access it. I felt like I should be able to, but my brain just wouldn’t grasp it. As I got older, my brain became more “fluid ” and “accessible.”
The third reason I believe impacted such a huge change in my learning ability, is that I was under less emotional strain and duress. By high school, I had a few friends and even a boyfriend. I still didn’t fit in with most kids at school. But, I had my little group. We called ourselves the outcasts. None of us quite fit in for various reasons.
I still struggled with depression. I still do to this day, despite having a much higher level of self esteem and self confidence. I was told it is a chemical imbalance and would never go away.
As an adult, I found myself able to maintain a steady job. I still struggled with fitting in, especially at first. I had to teach myself how to be around others and not have what I call a freak out. This wasn’t so hard with most coworkers. I was raised with a lot of siblings, plus had to be around people all day at school.
The difficult part was learning to deal with customers. Anyone who has ever worked customer service jobs can attest to how rude and abusive customers can be. Sometimes for no other reason than they’re having a bad day.
The biggest game changer for me was deciding that I didn’t care what others thought or how they acted. It took a while, but I eventually convinced myself that fitting in didn’t matter.
It would take way too long of a post to describe everything I went through and how I adjusted and learned to function in a way that most people would find “normal.” I will just say that it was a lot of mind over matter, developing a very thick “skin,” careful observation of my peers, and of course maturity has played a huge role.
I am going to skip to my son’s diagnosis of autism. He was in kindergarten. I am not going to go into him in this post. I mention his diagnosis for a specific reason.
When he was diagnosed, I started researching autism very thoroughly. I wanted to understand so that I could be the best mom possible for him. The more I researched, the weirder the information I discovered was. Not because of the autistic signs, symptoms, ect, but rather because I was shocked that the many of the articles could have been written about me. They described so much that I identified with, had actually experienced.
That was the first time that I had the suspicion of my own autism. However, after stewing over it for quite some time, I convinced myself that I couldn’t be autistic, because I would have known by then. I figured someone would have diagnosed me, having no clue that I had been.
About three or four years later I was talking to my son’s therapist. I was extremely frustrated. I told her, “I don’t understand why people have so much trouble understanding him. He is a logical child. Sometimes I think he is the only person that makes sense!”
She looked at me dead in the eye and says, “Well yeah, that’s because you are autistic too.”
I was shocked into silence for a few minutes. She just sat there watching me, as therapists do. Until finally I told her that she was wrong. I denied being autistic. Yet in my brain, part of me already knew.
Later that day, I told Mom about the conversation. I expected her to laugh it off and reassure me that I was not. Instead, she calmly looked at me and said, “You are autistic. I’ve known since you were five.”
I felt like my whole world rearranged that day. At first it was just mind boggling. Mom knew and yet never said a word. Not even after Brian and then Jaime were diagnosed.
Over time though, it became a blessing to know. So much of my life that never made sense just clicked into place.
Above all was a slow sense of release. There wasn’t something fundamentally wrong with me as a person. I wasn’t stupid. I simply have autism. It’s not my personality that is all wrong. My brain simply functions differently than most people’s.
It took a while to fully digest this real life plot twist. However, once I did I finally found something that I had long searched for. Self acceptance. That has made all the difference in my life.
[Note: I felt the need to add this note. I may not agree with Mom’s decision to not tell me about my autism, but I do understand her reasoning. In the 80s there was a lot less help for people with autism than there is now. Whoever diagnosed me just wanted to put me on Ritalin. Mom didn’t want that for me. Nor did she want me labeled. She wanted me to have as “normal” of a life as possible. And she was right about my having to learn to function. I do appreciate the fact that mom didn’t coddle me, nor did she allow my life to be about my diagnosis. Yes, it was rough not understanding why I was different, but to be fair I don’t think I ever shared my struggles with her. I have always been self contained to some degree. She seemed genuinely surprised when I told her, after she admitted that I was autistic about my internal struggles. (I was angry and frustrated at the time and so I was ranting about everything I’d gone through because of not knowing. ) I feel like, at the end of the day, Mom did what she thought was best for me. I am certainly not a perfect parent. The perfect parent doesn’t exist. My experiences made me stronger. I owe that strength in part to my mom. It was difficult earlier in life, but I believe that my struggles have made me not only a stronger woman, but a better mom too. R.I.P. Mom. I know you did what you thought was the best. I hold no ill will, only love.]