Today, many teachers, parents, children and supporters gathered for an Autism Awareness walk in Getzville.
It was drizzling considerably but we bundled up, put on our rain gear and official t shirts!
This holds a special place in my heart. At age 21, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (As I had mentioned in another post). While I cannot speak for everyone affected, whether classic autistics or higher up on the spectrum, we do share things in common. Sometimes we cannot make eye contact or we flap our hands. We make noises that mean disapproval or happiness. That can be found at all places on the Autism Spectrum scale.
Here are the Signs of Autism.
For what its worth, perhaps the following will help someone….
As a toddler, my mother recalled peculiarities in behavior. She said sure children have quirks but she said I wasn’t developing quite right.
One day, while at a store, I held my clown doll and found little masks to put on it. Instead of picking one, I had gone through each mask and applied it to the doll’s face.
Instances like that… methodical, obsessive yet different.
As I entered preschool, I was very uncoordinated. (Which, if you’ve seen a video made in the 80s with little me as the star, my mother makes note of it and laughs it off). I had trouble keeping up with nursery rhymes or making friends but I did like rice krispy treats! I still do.
I was very poor at making eye contact, very reserved and not even in the normal category of the usual attempts at friend making.
Kindergarten was no better. At the end of the year, I was placed in a Post Kindergarten class. This was the beginning of special classes for me.
I was terrible at coloring but developed an incredible hunger to read. We were given basic names for stories or words to learn…. where was the rest?
When the only friend I had wasn’t placed in the same first grade class, I was devastated. No friends, no budding social skills.
Second grade, I didn’t care for much. I was a year older than the others (as I had been in first grade). My teacher was literally insane. She was a heavy set burnette, an older woman, with a shrill voice. (From what I gathered later on, she had a tough time adjusting to menopause). All year she kept the windows cracked open (due to hot flashes, no doubt) and she’d watch soap operas at noon, without fail. She’d scream at the television while gobbling crackers and phoning the other witchy teachers down the hall. They looked like mature trophy wives from Florida with the attitude to boot.
I was afraid to do math in her presence. I wasn’t just a little behind… I was quite behind. At that point, I was still the equivalent of a kindergartner in Mathematics. This teacher didn’t tolerate mispronounced words or poor math. What a nightmare ’twas.
Third grade, my obsessive interests started to take flight. I had gravitated toward Lizzie Borden and Pocahontas (of all people!). Any project had to be on either one. This was the year I had met Shannon too.
I befriended a girl named Jill. She was from a troubled home. Pugs were her passion. How excited I was that I finally seemed to have made a friend! I was clingy at the time and when I had found out that she had another friend, I was jealous. No one was going to take her!
Third grade was the year of the pool. One morning, all third graders were invited to the pool in the high school. Another girl was with Jill. She introduced herself as Shannon. When she decided Jill and herself were going to the deep end, I knew I couldn’t swim that far. Shannon was relieved.
Fourth grade, Greek Mythology was my next obsession. I looked for any free time to read what books I could find on it. My reading comprehension was off. I couldn’t quite articulate what I had learned but I understood it nonetheless. We were subjected to quaint books or stories via the public school system but I was cruising past the basic reading level of a fourth grader. The shit was juvenile and boring.
In fifth grade, I was placed in a special class room. My introduction to school to begin with was hellish and I was in special programs since kindergarten. The teacher was curious about me. I still couldn’t make friends but I rifled through many books. She gradually picked my brain. It hit her: I didn’t belong in her classroom. She notified my parents and had a conference with them.
“Your daughter doesn’t belong in my classroom. She’s brilliant. She loves Greek mythology and she wants to learn German. Kids aren’t like that in fifth grade. Let’s fight to put her in a regular classroom.”
My parents agreed.
One day, I was pulled aside and tested to see where I ranked in terms of grade in the subjects we studied. The results were brought to a meeting.
In reading, I scored as a sophmore in college. In spelling, I was a junior in high school. Mathematics, I ranked as a third grader.
“Explain this to me. I dare you.” Mrs. B (as that was her name) challenged the school board. “How does a child like this belong in a special classroom? She’s gifted.”
They agreed and placed me in a traditional classroom. Another year without friends but my appetite for learning started to peak. I loved my new teacher. She was a soft spoken goth! Her favorite number was 13 and she wored black every day. Her enthusiasm was infectious and she chose the coolest books to read. But I still attended Mrs. B’s for math. For the first time, I aced math. It was basic multiplication. It was a miracle!
(P.S. Fifth grade was the height of my Xena obsession)
In sixth grade, I was fascinated by my science instructor, Mr. C.
He was an animated gentleman and he kept my attention. During this time, I developed a lifelong passion/curiosity for the Black Plague. (It was a topic of discussion in the classroom for a couple of weeks).
Seventh grade introduced me to legit middle school. It proved more stressful with that same lack of social skills. I was still withdrawn. But hey, I was told this was the golden age of my youth!
My favorite class was history. I had a great teacher, Mr. Mariglia. He was this short fellow with lots of personality.
As much as I enjoyed English on my own, the general string of teachers was definitely lack lustre. No wonder kids hated it! You need teachers with passion, not useless mops.
Eighth grade was an extension of seventh but ninth grade was a new ballpark. This was the regents class period. It was brutal and quite useless, truth be told. Most concepts I didn’t and still haven’t used outside of my (basic) schooling. This was about the time I had started getting anxiety. I was in denial about that.
But it all came to a head in my sophomore year. I couldn’t handle it anymore. That is when the decision for a private school was made.
After the mess known as school had left my life for a time, I ended up living with my aunt. One day, she stumbled upon an article that spoke of Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of Autism. She lent it to my nana and Nana sent it to my mother.
“Hey Riss, come here and read this.”
I sat down and read the article, chuckling. “This is really funny. Did someone write this for me?”
“Nana and Aunt Taimi thought this sounded like you. When I read it, I thought so. We left it up to you to see if you felt the same.”
“Yeah. I totally feel this way. I mean, not so much the social anymore because I have adapted ok but everything else is spot on.”
So, after some searching, we found a psychiatrist that specializes in Aspergers. After several intense sessions, lasting about two to three hours each, the perusing of school records and interviews with family, I was diagnosed at age 21.
Even though I was coping with my quirks, what I was cognizant of before that vailidation point, I felt peace and a sense of comfort. I wasn’t retarded or special, it was just some neurological quirks. If I had the patience with myself, I’d just find alternatives to help myself along.
This isn’t my crutch. Its my gift. I just wanna see how it fits in with the world. Which puzzle piece am I?