What I Missed During My School Years as a Person on the Autism Spectrum
I was diagnosed with Asperger’s in my early 30s. In my previous blog, I shared what it was like for me to be different in my earliest years. I would like to go further now and talk about how I felt during my school years.
Kindergarten through second grade were a blur. A fast-moving period of time when I went to school timidly, did well scholastically and arrived home breathlessly happy to be able to play with my close friends.
When I was in third grade, my family moved. I had trouble making new friends. The few sleepovers I attended were confusing and uncomfortable for me. A group of little girls I hardly knew, giggling and talking to each other about things only they seemed to understand. I felt so different from them, like an outsider looking in. I began to read a lot, mostly “Nancy Drew” books, and take long walks in the woods with my dog. My mother let me have my childhood friends over, and that made me so happy.
In fifth grade, I moved again. I didn’t even try to make friends. I was quiet in school, tried to blend into the classroom and be invisible. I sat alone in the cafeteria, played alone at home with my Barbies and read my beloved books.
And then my parents divorced, and another move came. Back to where I started. In the same apartment complex I grew up. Where my good friends still lived. I was glad to be with them again, and we were wild kids in the evenings, played outside until dark each night.
But the days were hard. Because I was in middle school. And middle school was hell for me. I learned quickly that oral reports were near impossible for me, and I ended up refusing to do them by eighth grade. I flat out refused, red-faced in front of the whole class and the mystified, slightly miffed teachers. My grades were good, I was in all honors classes, but I willingly accepted a zero grade for each oral report I skipped. Gym class was a nightmare as well, a place where kids got picked for teams by their friends (I had none, as my dear friends were in different grades from me, so I got picked last, by kids who openly showed their displeasure at having to pick me). Gym class was also a place where I didn’t perform well, where I ducked at baseballs I was supposed to catch, dodged soccer balls, and basketballs passed my way. I was clumsy and afraid of climbing ropes, and I couldn’t hit a volleyball over the net. The other kids scolded me and scorned me for my efforts or lack of. I came up with every excuse in the book to not attend gym. When I had to, when the teachers made me, I hated every minute of it, and at the end of each class, I walked away full of self-loathing.
We moved again, and my first two years of high school were spent in another state, far from my childhood friends. High school was totally different for me. I found a group of kids I could fit into. They weren’t clicky or popular or athletic. They didn’t care that I was different. And they didn’t converse much about anything, which was great for me, as I generally sucked at following conversations.
They were potheads. And to hang out with them, I had to be one too. So I became one of them. My grades fell quickly. I started to smoke cigarettes. My mother didn’t know what to do about my new don’t-care attitude, but I ignored her. I finally found a place where I fit in. With the misfits. And I was in all my sensory glory, cozy in my new sedated world. As wrong as it all was, I was happy again.
I was later hospitalized for depression, although I certainly didn’t feel depressed. The hospital was depressing for sure. Strange foods I wouldn’t eat, strange people and kids who talked about feelings, and of course, strange medications, which made me feel numb and like a nobody.
I moved again, this time to live with my father. A new high school in my home state. I flat out ignored the other kids in school. I barely passed my classes. I read my books, did my homework and just lived. After some time it all became so unbearable, I dropped out. I was three months shy of graduation. I never went to a concert or a prom or a high school party. Never even wanted to. And I have no regrets about that.
My children sometimes ask me why I didn’t go to college. I always change the subject, redirect them to something easier to talk about. How could I possibly explain all of this to my sweet little ones? The dread I felt each morning before going to a school where I didn’t fit in, the ridicule I faced during my gym classes, the utter boredom of being forced to learn what I did not want to learn, the self-hate I felt as I walked eyes down through a sea of students in a hallway. Not to mention the noise of it all. Echoes of laughing and chatting and yelling in the cafeteria and hallways, slams of lockers and feet stomping by. All those strange faces and eyes that would surround me in school, looking at me, seeing me as different. Oh no, I cannot explain that to them. Not yet. But as my children grow older, wiser and more able to understand these things, I will tell them.
They are both on the spectrum, you see. I homeschool one so she won’t have to know the social difficulties I knew. She loves animals, horses particularly, and I plan to follow through with that interest in hopes of her following a different path than the one I took. A healthier, more self-loving path where she can bond with others her age who share her interests. And for my son, who attends a brick and mortar school, I hope to do the same. Find his interest and allow him to flourish with it.
Thinking back, that’s what I missed. The opportunity to be myself in a setting I flourished in. But I cannot fault my parents, as I still have not found that setting. Perhaps it is in parenting and advocating for my children that I find myself at home and at peace.
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