Seeing Myself While Working With Students on the Autism Spectrum

I was diagnosed two weeks ago with Asperger’s syndrome. I didn’t take it as bad news. On the contrary, it is a relief to know there’s a name for my peculiarities. A good deal of the fog of “why I am the way I am” has been lifted. Up until my diagnosis, I often thought of myself as an alien from another planet in this world. My diagnosis has set me from that line of thought.

My suspicions were first raised some time after I started working with kids in special education in my hometown school district. Many times I would observe a student’s behavior and I’d be moved to tears. I saw some of me in him or her. I was drawn to working with students on the autism spectrum, but I didn’t know why until now.

When I was recently in the same unit for weeks working with children on the autism spectrum, I got to know the students and observe their behavior on a daily basis. I would see students do something I did as a child or still do. I started doing research on the Internet about the autism spectrum. I got tested, and the results set off a light bulb and lifted the fog.

I thank the Lord for this diagnosis and the timing of it. I believe the Lord led me to my job of working as a substitute in special education at the right time in my life, my post-retirement job from federal government. Now that I know I’m an Aspie, my job has taken on new meaning to me.

Last week, I told a couple of special education teachers whom I trust about my diagnosis. I am fortunate to have contact with compassionate professionals who have expertise teaching autistic children. I asked them questions about stuff I do, or did as a child, and whether it might be related to my Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis.

When I was going to school, my mom did not ever have to tell me to do my homework. I’d start working on it as soon as I got home before changing clothes. When I started being a “bill payer,” I paid my bills immediately! I even got a letter from a utility company once thanking me for paying my bills so promptly. I kid you not, when I have a bill waiting for me when I get home from school, I will open it up, pay it online, or write a check, put in an envelope, stick a stamp on it, and place it where my mom puts mail to be mailed … before I even change clothes. Another example is I live with my mom to help her and I do most of the dishwashing at home. If there’s so much as a glass in the sink, I’ll wash it.

There are challenges. I prefer to do things alone. It is when I’m alone or when I’m talking to someone I feel comfortable with one-on-one that I am recharged. It is when I’m with a group of people, small or large, that I am totally drained. Routine is almost as essential for me as air and water. I am sensitive to certain sounds, touch, taste, and sight. I sleep with an eye mask and sleep with an air humidifier going. I’ve had meltdowns when hearing what I think is “loud music” someone is playing inside the house or next door. I don’t confront the noisemaker because I avoid confrontations.

So there are challenges, but there are rewards, too.

If it wasn’t for working with autistic students, I believe I’d still be in the dark. Now that I know, my job is more than a job to me. When I help an autistic student in my class, I can say to myself, “I’m on the autism spectrum, too.”

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