A book publisher recently asked me to write a 52-week blog post series about my life growing up without a spectrum for the website Good Men Project, where I write and am also a Managing Editor. The idea is that when finished, we will more or less have the possible makings of a nonfiction book about what it was like to grow up in the time before autism was a thing.
I turn 54 the day after this post goes live (no gifts are necessary), so I can speak on this topic with some authority.
In preparation for this 52-week series, I spent 90 minutes on Facetime with my mom last week talking about my birth through fifth-grade years. With the exception of fifth grade, which I remember all too well for being called “Weird, stupid,” and, “lazy” by my teacher both to my face and in front of my classmates, I don’t remember a thing about growing up.
What I found out from my mom is that I exhibited all the classic childhood traits associated with childhood autism (epilepsy, food allergies, major meltdowns, etc.)
I gave my parents hell growing up. Not because I wanted to, (I was just a baby and a toddler) but because that’s how my brain was wired, and still is. I began having seizures on day one of my life, while still in the hospital, something that I continue to deal with, though medicine now controls and greatly limits them. I was an extremely bright child, and though I was diagnosed with ADHD in kindergarten, I was never put on any medication to control it. That’s what led to the verbal abuse from teachers starting in fifth grade.
I can’t tell you the number of times I heard that I wasn’t living up to my potential, as some teachers could see that I was smart, but that I, “wasn’t applying myself.” Other teachers thought that because I couldn’t understand their instructions (because my brain was wired differently and I needed explanations given to me in a different way), I was simply stupid.
I was not stupid, and I was applying myself. Like most Aspies (those with Asperger’s Syndrome) my brain runs a thousand scenarios a minute, running probabilities and figuring out what will work and what won’t. While I didn’t always understand the instructions, I could often arrive at the answers to math and algebra problems but would follow an alternate route to the answers that was not prescribed in our lesson.
Because I showed my work in a different way than the way the teacher’s taught it, I received D’s and mostly F’s. The reality is that they probably couldn’t understand the logic behind the work I was doing and thus, failed me. It was possibly like a high school version of the movie A Beautiful Mind without all the crazy and writing on windows.
I have math and algebra phobias to this day and am planning on going back to college beginning in the summer. As I looked over the course curriculum for Behavioral Sciences, I began to have a panic attack and my hands literally began shaking as I read the General Education requirement, Contemporary Mathematics.
Somehow, I made it through high school, though my journalism teacher did tell me to give up writing because I was no good and never would succeed.
It’s a good thing I didn’t listen to her because I’ve had a twenty-year career including being published in thirty different magazine titles with over a hundred magazine articles. I’ve been featured in more than a dozen major daily newspapers, had a self-published book that hit as high as #23 on Amazon’s Hot New Dating (if only for a few days) and as of Sunday morning, 569 posts on Good Men Project alone. That doesn’t account for the other sites I’ve written for and for the two blogs I’ve had. The award-winning one that ran from 2009-2012 and Not Weird Just Autistic, which has been around since 2017.
What you’ve just read are some snapshots from the beginning of my autism journey. If you want to read about these things in more detail, sign up at the bottom of the page for blog post notifications and I will let you know when the 52-weekly series begins at Good Men Project. That said, each of us has had and continues our own autism journey. We invite you to share snippets of your journey with us in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Photo courtesy iStock.
This post previously published on Not Weird Just Autistic and is republished with the permission of the authors.