I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism that’s known for high intelligence, social skills that can be lacking and problems with verbal communication.
I think that’s why I like to write. That way I can go back, move things around, change a few words here and there and generally make myself understood more clearly.
I grew up in a time before autism or Asperger’s was known about in school-age children, much less adults and that’s a big reason I wasn’t diagnosed as being on the spectrum until I was forty-six. I’ll be fifty-four later this month.
For me growing up, and especially school was a difficult and often painful experience. I went to public school through fourth grade in one of the best school districts in my part of Southern California and for some inexplicable reason, my parents decided to put me in Christian school from fifth grade through my high school graduation.
Fifth grade is where my problems started. You would think that at a Christian-based school that the teachers would be caring and sympathetic, but I didn’t find that to be true at all. In fact, it was while attending these schools that I had my first experience with adults bullying kids that were different.
Again, there was no such thing as autism when I was in school, though in kindergarten I was diagnosed with ADD (there was no “H” in it at the time) and I suffered from seizures as a small child. They were under control by the time I got to school, so no one really knew about them.
I remember my fifth-grade teacher getting very frustrated with me, though I don’t remember exactly what she said, but beginning in sixth-grade I was called, “weird”, “stupid” and “lazy” in front of my classmates. Not only was that mean, it gave me very little street cred with the kids in my class and anyone they could find to tell.
I don’t get what would cause an adult to talk to a child that way, especially in front of his peers, but the verbal abuse went on for several years and it did nothing but put my self-esteem in the toilet. To this day I still occasionally suffer from self-esteem issues that I believe I can trace back to my youth.
I may have been a bit weird in comparison to the other kids, but that wasn’t something I could help. After all, I was autistic, though I like to say that I grew up, “off the spectrum.”
I definitely wasn’t lazy. I tried my best, but I often had difficulty understanding what the teacher was explaining, so I often got the assignments wrong. I tried my best, but apparently my best wasn’t good enough.
As far as stupid goes, I can tell you that from my IQ tests, I am far from stupid. I may need things explained to me in a different way than other people do, and I may need to do tasks in a slightly different manner than others, but don’t confuse that with being stupid.
I often wonder what would have happened if these (insert sarcasm) outstanding and caring Christian teachers had read the Bible and had treated people the way the Good Book told them to. I have no doubt in my mind that I would have been better off in my local public schools, but I guess we’ll never know, will we?
Even though we’re now diagnosing kids as young as pre-school with autism, life and school haven’t gotten a whole lot better for them. In general, the teachers treat them better, but they’re pushed into special ed classes even though they can be extremely bright.
Why does this happen? The “regular” teachers don’t want to deal with all the questions they get and with the kids on the spectrum needing things explained in a different way, so a kid who could excel in regular classes gets pushed off into special ed, where they’re labeled, “sped kids” by faculty and classmates alike.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a teacher or administrator use the phrase sped kid (short and derogatory for “special ed”). Every time I hear it, my blood starts to boil and on a number of occasions I’ve made comments telling them what I think of that label. FYI, it’s not good.
I’d like to sarcastically thank the good Christian men and women who took time out of their busy day to mock me and to call me hurtful things. You did a great service not only to me, but I’m sure to many other kids who attended your classes who weren’t what you viewed as normal.
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This post was previously published on Not Weird Just Autistic and is reprinted with the permission of the author.