If I could take a single snapshot of myself as a child, it would be of me as a little girl looking out the window, watching the children play. A child wishing to join in, but too afraid to step outside and ask, “Can I play?” Maybe if she had asked, they would have let her join in the circle. But repeatedly being a victim of bullying, she didn’t dare risk rejection. She maintained her distance on the sidelines where she felt safe.
She compensated the loneliness with retreating into a world of make-believe where she could be anybody she wanted to be. She made up a cast of characters who let her join their circle. In this world, she got to play the starring role. The little girl knew it was a world of her own imagination. And when she invariably got caught pacing back and forth, talking to herself, she’d bear the brunt of the heckling of other children and the bewilderment of adults.
I am on the autism spectrum and was only diagnosed recently at the age of 58. My diagnosis was a gift I shall treasure for the rest of my days. I know now what’s behind how I think, feel and act. Before the diagnosis, it was like walking in pitch-black darkness. The diagnosis was the lightbulb.
It was largely through working as a substitute teaching assistant that I came to the realization of being autistic. Sometimes I would cross paths with a child who reminded me of the little girl looking out the window. One of those times occurred in an elementary school gym while subbing for a P.E. aide. I was watching the children play in stations, each section being a different game. I noticed a third-grade boy standing next to me. I asked him why wasn’t he at one of the stations, and he shrugged his shoulders. I asked him, “How about basketball or tetherball, or jumprope, or hula-hoop?” He nodded “no” at all my suggestions. I asked him what he liked to do. He said, “Eat!” I could not keep a straight face.
This youngster was tugging at my heart strings. I knew what it was to just watch the other kids play. Instead of pushing him to shoot baskets or jump rope, I asked him if he’d like to take a walk with me. He agreed to that. As we went for our walk around the other kids playing, I asked him questions, such as what his favorite food was. He said “hamburger,” and that the hamburger place he liked best was “Mom’s.” I assumed he meant his mom’s homemade hamburgers were better than at any restaurant.
He pulled out his mom’s business card with a beaming smile on his face. It seemed to be of such comfort to him to have the card with her phone number in case he needed to call her. He let me see the card, and it was a hamburger restaurant. That explained to me why his mom’s hamburgers were the best and his favorite food.
I gave that child a little bit of time and attention I wished someone had given me when I was that little girl looking out the window. I believe I have been so blessed by God with my diagnosis and a job that helps me cope with that diagnosis. The past can’t be changed or relived. But my job gives me numerous opportunities to help any young ones who might struggle with what I struggled with and still do.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Image via Thinkstock Images