Middle School, High School, and College Through the Eyes of a Young Autistic

Middle school. The darkest and most hideous, oppressive years a human can fathom. When the hormones are just ripe enough to make you want to take on the whole world, but maturity has not yet developed enough to realize there are things such as consequences. But me, I did not get into any real trouble, instead I became profoundly confused and unhappy. These are years that are difficult to handle under even the best of circumstances. On top of this, my family moved from the Northeast to the Southwest just as I was about to start middle school. To take a young child from one environment and to suddenly thrust them into new ones is very distressing and painful.

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For the Autistic it can be hell. Somehow I managed to survive it all, and to escape being beat up by the other kids. One thing I didn’t escape? Humiliation. I had a tendency to laugh uncontrollably at the things I thought were funny at the time. I had always been led to believe that laughing at someone’s joke was the best genuine way to prove that you understood it, and that you admired their sense of wit. But somehow, laughing at everyone’s joke meant I was weird. Wanting to learn was weird. Humming music that I liked was weird. Reading books that I wasn’t required to because of a class was weird. My hair was weird.

Seriously. Other than my hair, someone explain to me what’s weird about any of that.

My Battle Plan for Communication

For much of my life, I have had a hard time understanding not only the non-verbal communication of others, but how my own non-verbal communication affected others. Sometimes, if I was irritated at someone, I would simply keep my mouth shut, the rationale being “They can’t hold me accountable for something I didn’t say.”

What I failed to realize was that sometimes silence speaks louder than anything you could say, or that you could say one thing, but your facial expressions, actions, and certainly body language tell the real story.

Asperger’s: Disease, or Difference?

Not too long ago, I was talking to a friend from high school and said, “I know everyone thought I was weird back in school.” He replied, “Ken, I never thought you were weird. I think we all knew you were different. We just didn’t know why.”

That sums up the “Aspie” in a nutshell. Everyone knows he’s different, including him. But they don’t know why. He may be seen as slow, undisciplined, maybe even retarded. The reality is, his brain is simply wired differently than that of most people. Because of this, he may struggle with things others take for granted, and may take longer than others to learn some things. However, this also means he can probably do things others couldn’t do to save their lives.

A classic example of this would be Temple Grandin. While watching “The Temple Grandin Story,” it occurred to me why her differences were both a blessing and a curse: Because nobody had a brain that worked like hers, nobody else could understand her, and so oftentimes, she was dismissed as an eccentric or kook. But by the same token, because no one’s brain worked like hers, nobody could do the things she did. Similarly, I struggled with a lot of things that came easy to my classmates in school. But I could also do things they could never do, such as figuring math problems in my head. 

Born into Aspergers

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I want to address the difference between “in spite of” and “because of”. One of the greatest equalizers that spans across all barriers of humanity is that we individually cannot choose when we are born and when we die. I was born a sensitive and socially honest soul into a superficial and insincere social environment.

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If I was born in a world where people constantly strive for self-improvement, valued relationships rather than objects, and looked for acceptance over status, I think I would have been just fine. The kind who prefers the former bullied me to think I’m crazy but I don’t think I am. So if I take this perspective, I did succeed in spite of these kinds of environments.

I knew from a young age that I wanted to help people.

A Letter to My Daughter: Having a Sibling with ASD

There are so many moments in life that are filled with such amazing joy, and there are those that cause worry in the back of your mind. The kind that keeps you up at night and causes a pain deeper than you knew pain could go. While both of my children are my world, this is a letter to my 4-year-old daughter about her life, and how having a sibling with ASD affects her:

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Grace,

I see the look on your face when the day has stopped once again to tend to the same thing. The confusion I know you feel about the differences between yourself and your brother are very much real.

Lessons learned from kids with diverse abilities

I say diverse abilities because one thing that I have learned from working and playing with children and adults with developmental disabilities is that they understand more than neuro-typical children and adults do.

Five young friends jumping outdoors smiling

You may understand if you’ve ever heard the phrase “Dance like no one is watching.” and if you crave the freedom and joy that behaving that way can bring. They live their lives like no one is watching. They may not even have the ability to sensor their thoughts. This really brings a sense of freedom and joy that no one else (I know) can truly understand.

It is the rest of the world who has a problem with what a child like this does and says.  If society could be “okay” with this, than they could be “okay” with truly BEING authentic with who they are. These “children” taught me so much about being authentic and not worrying about what other people see or think. It was years later, when I became a mother again, that I realized just how much they taught me.

**This blog is a continuation from a previous post by Katherine Goodsell, you can find it here.

Functioning Socially and Living Independently

Autistically Speaking - Terrilee Tatum

I had a lot of problems growing up as I felt socially awkward and did not fit in with my peers. My challenges mainly were with social issues. Getting along with people, reading facial expressions, and body language all seemed completely foreign to me.

Terrilee Tatum

I was finally diagnosed with High Functioning Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome when I was 17 years old. Most people in Texas didn’t know what Asperger’s Syndrome was at that time. I’ll be 32 in December so over ½ my life I didn’t even know I had Asperger’s. Since then I have learned how to function in a world with people.

Here is how.

One of the things I did was to enlist the help from a social skills coach. Learning from a professional how to read body language helped me a lot. It made me feel more comfortable to be around people. Now I coach tennis, and that’s a big part of my life. I even have friends and do things socially, like participating in sports, going to movies and enjoying artwork. I now live independently (something my parents weren’t sure I ever would be able to do), teach tennis, work the front desk and work data entry and bookkeeping at an office.

My suggestions for others on the higher end of the spectrum would be:

  • First: get a pet! Animals are always good to have. I have 2 dogs that are delightful, as they are comforting, playful, and happy. They bring up my mood. I would recommend a pet because they are easier to connect to than people; being loyal, loving, straight forward, and obvious.
  • Second: don’t be afraid to find the right support group, and to reach out to other people with your same issues.
  • Lastly: think about enlisting the help of a life skills coach to help you navigate social scenario’s that are a must.

157102_100003663206861_1744014049_qBy Terrilee Tatum

 

Life on the Spectrum: Time and Chance in All

Our increased knowledge about autism has profound implications, so in addition to discussing problems that specifically affect autistic individuals, we should explore what the mere existence of the autism spectrum can teach us about a wide range of social, cultural, political, and even philosophical issues.

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Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning it affects each person in a different way. That being said, there are certain overriding traits that unite those of us on the autism spectrum. . .

A Parent’s Perspective

1455977_10200795465710973_510450068_n03a85a733c36Many times in our lives, we come upon a fork in the road. One choice leads you down a certain path and the other choice leads you down a very different road. Finding out your child has Autism is complex enough, but eventually we all come to a similar fork in the road. Do I choose my child, or do I choose to please the surrounding neurotypicals. . .those judgmental people around me?

It sounds simplistic but we realized almost immediately after the diagnosis that you can be judged, alienated, and sometimes even rejected by your peers and perhaps even family. It hurts because you know your child cannot help the ‘tantrums’ when the baby in the grocery store won’t stop screaming, or that your child’s complete lack of athletic skills will never match the soccer mom’s expectation of a friendly neighborhood soccer game. So eventually you and your child are excluded.

When these and many other similar situations would continue to arise I realized my son would always elicit these looks from unforgiving people, because his Autism was not going away. So, we chose our child. As soon as our family as a unit took that path everything became easier! I no longer worry about other’s lack of knowledge when it comes to sensory issues or brain function. We as a family could have our own fun. Quirky doesn’t bother me anymore, in fact it’s almost cool, and definitely a relief.

Together our family is a strong unit accepting and excelling in our son’s unique interests. Our family weekends are no longer with people that make for awkward or unforgiving situations, but we welcome anyone who would like to be with us, just as we are! Now, many years later, the same families who alienated us for the differences have surprisingly praised our strong family unit, “hiccups” and all!

By Jennifer Allen

Child just Diagnosed with Aspergers?

I’m Here to Say it’ll be Alright.

11012954_10204462766751207_2317137543922936014_nI’m pretty sure those of you who have discovered that your child has high-functioning autism went into some kind of state of shock when you found out about the diagnosis. My own mother felt the room spinning when they suggested the possibility of me having high-functioning autism.

But, at the same time, she also experienced a feeling of relief for finally having a diagnosis that explained the foreign behaviors.

It’s okay to feel shocked when the diagnosis comes in. It can be a lot to take in, but I can assure you that there is nothing to worry about. In fact, I’d consider the diagnosis to be a stepping stone towards a journey.

Now, some of you may be worried after getting the diagnosis that your child may not be able to drive, or to find a romantic love interest. Take a look at me; I have Aspergers and I’m driving to and from college every Monday through Thursday with no hitch, and I’ve even had some girlfriends in recent times.

Of course, there are going to be rough patches throughout the journey, but that’s what makes the journey all the more interesting. Because, let’s face it, normal is boring.

In conclusion, there’s no need to treat the diagnosis as a lethal disease, and I see no reason for the child not to know about their high-functioning autism. Take the time to explain what it is, and make sure they understand that high-functioning autism is far from anything even close to a disease.

By Samuel Allen