A small measure of peace

After I completed the investigation, research and analysis phase of my Aspergers discovery there was a brief period of calm.

  • I was Autistic!
  • OK.

I was in my 40s, a graduate, gainfully employed in a specialist field, married and we had been blessed with wonderful children.

Instant Replay

Then suddenly my entire life was being replayed in my head, passing through some kind of Autistic prism.

Everything made more sense.

  • That’s why I was always so curious about the world
  • That’s why I asked lots of questions
  • That’s why I loved books
  • That’s why I was obsessed with maps, travel, other lands, outer space
  • That’s why I didn’t have any friends

Pure analytical thought, devoid of any emotion.

Safe ground.

Then the grieving hit me, like a freight train!

But as I explored my grief, I realized that I wasn’t actually grieving for me.

I was grieving for a little 6 year old boy who was about to embark on a journey that I wouldn’t wish on the most heinous criminal!

Although I knew intellectually that little boy was me, I was relating to him emotionally as if he was a news story!

But not for long.

Finding me

I think I sobbed, on and off, for about a month, as I had when my Father died.

  • But I had survived the horrors of High School and College
  • It was ancient history
  • I was now a grown man

This was a little boy, innocent, happy, care free and about to begin a life-sentence for a crime he hadn’t committed.

  • And he was going to have to do it all alone
  • More than 20 years before Aspergers was given a name!

But that was ME and I wanted to go back and protect him, tell him things that not even his parents told him, rescue him!

I wasn’t relating to this boy as my younger self, I was relating to him as a Father would to his child.

Going back

I have often wished I could go back and meet me as a young boy, before the horror of my school years.

There would be so much to say, to do, to just watch, so I framed it as I imagine it would be done in a movie.

I have 2 minutes to speak with my 6 year old self.

 

The following is inspired by dreams I had after my Father died.

Written on Fathers Day 2012 – in his memory

‘Hello Sam’

  • ‘Hello Sir, who are you?’

‘I’m a family friend and I have come a very long way to see you Sam’

  • ‘Where do you live Sir?’

‘On the other side of the World. Listen son, I don’t have a lot of time and I need to tell you some things’

  • ‘Can you show me on this map where you live please?’

‘I will, but first I need you to listen to what I have to say, because you won’t be hearing these words again for a very long time’

  • ‘Wow! OK’

‘Sam, you will be starting school soon and everything is going to change’

  • ‘Yeh, Mom told me about that, they have lots of books and even telescopes and………’

‘Yes they do and you’ll learn about the planets and Math……..’

  • ‘I love numbers!’

‘I know you do’

‘Sam, you are a very special and wonderful person but not everyone will we able to see this or understand you’

  • ‘Sometimes Mom and Dad can’t answer my questions’ (chuckling)

‘You might not have as many friends as the other children and you might spend a lot of time alone and sometimes you might feel sad’

  • ‘That’s OK, I have lots of books and we have a big garden’

‘Sam there might be times when you feel very sad and lonely.

But whatever happens always remember that it will get better and one day it will all, all be OK.’

  • ‘What’s wrong with your eyes?’

‘Oh! Just some dust’

  • ‘Can you come back and visit again?’

‘No I’m sorry I can’t and I’m so sorry that it took me so long to find you.

It is so very good to finally meet you’

  • ‘Can I go visit you?’

‘Yes you can Sam, I’ve prepared a room for you at our home.

But you will have to find your own way there’

  • ‘Can you show me on the map?’

‘There are no maps to where I live Sam, but you won’t need one.

Just follow your heart’

  • ‘I don’t understand’

‘I know you don’t, but you will Sam, I promise you that you will.

And I’ll be waiting there for you, on the porch, when you arrive.’

  • ‘Do you wanna say hi to Mom and Dad before you go Sir?’

‘I would like that Sam, but they won’t be able to see me.’

  • ‘That’s funny (chuckles) sometimes it seems like they can’t see me either’
  • ‘I think you have dust in your eyes again’

 

‘Follow your heart with everything that you do Sam and remember that one day it will ALL be OK.’

 

I Exist!

 

I recall 8th Grade being my most torturous year in High School.

I would usually walk the few miles to school as I enjoyed the private time and it also gave me time to prepare for the horror of another day of confinement as well as the anxiety at the hands of my tormentors.

The dread built up slowly during my walk to school and became terror as I turned the corner and saw the school building.

 

As I have mentioned before, my memory of High school has a lot of gaps, in part because it was almost completely devoid of any positive social interaction

  • I have been told by those who do have happy memories of High school, that it is time spent with friends that is often the most memorable

Yet my memories of 8th Grade are more vivid than any other High School year!

  • I can recall the layout of the Home room, the color of the desks, the chalk boards and the smell of the timber framed building

Although immature for my age, typical for an Autistic kid, I had sufficient emotional awareness to realize that I had been utterly socially rejected by everyone in Grade 8.

I knew that I was despised, even hated by some, but I didn’t understand why. What had I done ‘wrong’? Was it my hair, was I too tall, too skinny, too clever?

Was I just ugly!?

 

I remember living out that school year in utter despair.

Although I never considered suicide as an option, it had occurred to me, as a thought experiment, that the pain of High School would likely stop if I was no longer alive.

But my survival instinct and curiosity always kept me waiting to see what was on the other side of the next breath.

There was also one brief part of every school day that I enjoyed, was alive to and enthusiastic about.

The Class register!

This was my lifeline. Once a day, every day, our Home room teacher would call out the class roll during registration.

I would sit at my desk in anticipation, barely able to contain my excitement in the certain knowledge that my name would be called out.

I had memorized the class register and would mentally recite, in time with our Home room teacher, the names of all the other children until, the sweetest sound of the school day;

MY NAME!

  • I cannot properly describe the joy that I felt, hearing my name during roll-call every morning
  • Because it was usually the only time during the school day when I would hear it spoken with any measure of civility

It was my one and only friendly greeting of the day, every morning.

It acknowledged that I was there.

It was proof that:

I EXIST!

 

Socially the school day went rapidly down hill from there, every single day.

But once a day, for a brief moment, I ‘belonged’ to something, anything, even if it was just administrative record keeping and an entry in a book.

  • For that brief moment I was not a reject, not invisible, not an object
  • I was Human, I was afforded dignity, I was acknowledged and I was an equal

 

Epilogue

Some Autistic people have unusual memories for facts and details and I am one of them.

I have remarkable recall for the tiniest of details from decades ago and yet I am regularly unable to find my keys or my wallet at home!

Although 8th Grade is now more than 30 years ago, I can still recite my Home room roll call of over 30 names as easily as I can recite the alphabet.

I am unable to do this for any other Grade, just Grade 8, which is probably an a very good indictment of how much of a lifeline that early morning, Grade 8 class roll-call was for me.

That daily High school ritual, in which I heard the sweet sound of my name, has remained locked in my long term memory.

It is my eternal reminder that in the depths of my utter despair in High school –

I EXISTED!

 

 

Teen years with and without Autism

 

I have Asperger Syndrome and my teenage High school experience was a living hell that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

I will be blogging about this over the next few weeks but I want to begin by taking a step back and putting this into perspective.

 

Even if schools did not exist, teen years would be a formidable challenge due to the changes that are common to all children.

  • Emotional, physical, biological, psychological

Teenagers can be very cruel to other teenagers but the physical confinement of the school system provides an environment in which this cruelty can be amplified.

  • Teenagers may feel a greater freedom to be cruel/bully others students
  • This can be far more damaging when the cruelty/bullying is being carried out by groups

The ‘reasons’ for bullying are outside the scope of this post, but I do want to look at the victim profile.

 

While Autistic children seem to be very well represented as bullying victims, I think it is important to acknowledge that given the extent of bullying in school systems, Neurotypical (non-Autistic) children are also victims and in very large numbers.

Any teenager who is ‘different’ runs the risk of being bullied and suffering a miserable existence at school, regardless of neurology.

  • Astonishingly, I don’t actually recall any physical bullying at my High School, but there was relentless psychological bullying.

When we advocate for Autistic school-children, I think it’s important to recognize that bullying is a Universal problem for children and to acknowledge that non-Autistic children also suffer terribly under school systems that in some cases are effectively day prisons!

 

I wasn’t the only victim of psychological bullying at my High school, but I seemed to be the only one who was completely and utterly socially rejected.

  • All of the other victims of psychological bullying in my Grade seemed to have a group they hung out with
  • It may have been a small group, but they belonged

The kids who weren’t particularly good at sports hung out together, the kids who were good at wood-shop hung out together, the kids who struggled academically hung out together etc etc.

But I was a complete and utter outsider. I belonged nowhere, was made welcome nowhere and was invited nowhere.

When I wasn’t being taunted, mocked or showered in hatred, I was just invisible, ignored, alone, adrift.

I enjoyed no solace with others suffering in the school system because I lacked the hard-wiring needed to connect with any of them socially and they knew it!

  • I of course was oblivious
  • Even the rejected students, rejected me!

This was the devastating part of my High School years.

  • There was no respite, no sympathy, no shared suffering, just unending despair

I was a Grade A student and a Champion swimmer.

  • I wasn’t bullied for being overweight, because of my skin color, my ethnic background, being poor…..(fill in the blank)
  • All of which are a violation of a person’s dignity

My bullying at school, in the form of unbroken ostracism, was due entirely to the rejection of my fundamentally different style of social interaction, which was and remains the result of being born Autistic.

 

During the next few blog posts I will be sharing some of my experiences of High School.

It won’t be fun writing these, but I hope that these stories might help others by easing or preventing the suffering that I endured as a teenager but thankfully survived.

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