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Welcome to My Blog

I’ll be sharing what I discover as I learn to navigate and live with Asperger’s syndrome

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this going, and learning the process along the way. Updates will be sporadic, and of inconsistent quality. To paraphrase a YouTuber, “I promise nothing and deliver less.”

“I’ve never made fun of someone for being autistic.”

It was recently brought to my attention that members of my acquaintance, who had formerly antagonized me, hold staunch – and frankly self aggrandizing – “supportive” views against bullying. Very few people recall their adolescence with overwhelming fondness, and I am no exception in this. If you will permit me, I have a words to say.

To preface, I feel I should clarify that the instances of menace I faced were mild; there was no single group or ringleader, I wasn’t the only target, and I never feared school or became all that upset over a single incident. But I was conscious daily that I could expect hostile peer relations, and that something about me – me fundamentally – induced it.

Allow me to set the stage: in elementary school some of my “quirks” were noticed, but for the most part no one cared. Even if I chose most days to stay spend recess inside using the kinetic science and arts stations when they were finally quiet, on other days I could step into the lines for four square and tether ball without harassment – or any notice, so far as I am aware. At this time I didn’t think of myself as weird; I could always vocalize at least enough of my concerns that the adults had let me do my thing (“It’s too loud to read in there” was always a favorite getaway line at family functions), and no peers had ever asked an explanation or made a derisive comment.

But in middle school, as so many contemporary writers high above my caliber have observed, hierarchy and perception becomes everything. For awhile I remained blind to this, since I was still content with my activities and interests, and most of those were solitary, it didn’t seem all that relevant that the schoolyard mob was breaking into smaller segments. Besides, I had three friends to sit with at the lunch times I didn’t spend in the library or the art room, so the only meal in which I remember experiencing significant stress occurred when we joined a table of strangers to try to figure out if one of their group returned the interest from a member of ours (I didn’t know the goal at the time, I confess, and I never learned if the outcome was successful).

I couldn’t say when the teasing started, but remember the day I noticed. In seventh grade I often got singled out in class often for over participating (there’s a reason I idolized Hermione Granger, yet I had not internalized the cautions of her character), and on this occasion I was asked not to raise my hand for the duration of the period. It was a regular request (middle school teachers deal with so much, and deserve infinite respect), so I started working on something else on my own – reading or other homework, I don’t remember, but I was was bent over my desk. It’s relevant, because I began to notice tiny, infrequent taps against my head. I turned around to quickly hidden smirks, and touched my hair to find torn specks of eraser stuck in it, along with about a dozen tiny wads of paper I hadn’t noticed hit me.

What else to say? At the break I brushed them out, cried for a minute, and went to my next class. After that I began to notice mocking comments, ingenue questions, and consistent exclusion. I became better at dodging (there was one instance where I was hit with a carton of chocolate milk at lunch, but everyone agreed that that had been too far on the thrower’s part), and I tried not to be a “weird know it all.”

It was all so mild, but it was consistent. There wasn’t one perpetrator, there wasn’t a group of ringleaders – in fact I only remember the architects of a few occasions, and I doubt they remember at all. After all, it was only a bit of fun. To this day they can believe nothing they did was wrong.

There is a distinct type of bullying that is spotlighted in television and anti-bullying media: an individual or small group antagonist launching a targeted campaign against an individual with conscious malicious focus the quality that makes them “other” (for instance: wealth, sexuality, or race disparity). This is natural; it is easy and obvious to villianize and critique this behavior, and PSA’s are not known for the subtly or nuance. But as a result, smaller or infrequent infractions come to seem less significant. Our TV bullies are the popular athletes who (almost ritually) throw a student into a dumpster each morning while using known and pointed slurs, and are never victimized themselves. They aren’t uncertainly placed middle men who occasionally target a weaker child for a moment’s step up the mudhill of their higherarchy. In fact, they’ve probably had moments of experiencing it too.

The difference is the frequency and duration. When you are “other” in a distinct way, you are the most popular target, and that wears you down. It makes you believe that you are defective, worthless, or inhuman – as testamonies from marginalized groups have increasingly shown as the internet provides platforms.

And I am angry that those who hurt me can claim moral superiority in adulthood. Naturally, people change and grow beyond their adolescent selves (I have to believe that’s true), but just because the wrongs committed did not match the TV villain shouting “retard” at a half bus does not mean no wrong was done, or that no bias existed.

They never made fun of someone for being autistic – but they called me “weirdo” and “freak” for my interests, shamed me when I was stemming, and mocked me when I failed to blend in.

Middle, high school, and even part of college was miserable for me because I didn’t fit with my peers. I think it’s worth considering that expanding “normal” would help a lot of people, particularly those who are young and vulnerable. I hope that counts as a positive takeaway, because I’m afraid this post is comprised of more emotions than thoughts. I want this blog to be constructive, but I’m afraid that’s difficult when writing from a place of frustration.

Aspie Hero of the Day: Amelia Bedelia

There is a series of books intended as a fun way to introduce young readers to the incongruities and irregularities of the English language by poking fun at the ways that we do no say exactly what we mean, or mean exactly what we say.

Image result for amelia bedelia

The vessel for these lessons is our hero: Amelia. This beautiful gem of a housekeeper interprets every instruction she is given exactly literally, and gets into some very silly situations as she strives to do as she’s been asked.

With her solitary personality, unusual and creative approach to problems, and struggles to effectively communicate with those around her, Amelia can easily be read as having a high-functioning form of ASD. It’s even implied, by the way that she expresses her confusion in some of the instructions (“In my family we always un-dust the furniture.”) that her home is dominated by neuro-divergent communicators.

And this is what makes her stories “Aspierational” in my eyes: she is never ridiculed for her misunderstandings. The people around her are confused and sometimes frustrated by errors, but at no point in the books do they criticize Amelia or make her feel less than for the way her mind works. She is valued for the skills she has (namely, her exceptional baking and enthusiastic attitude), and after it’s clear that she’s misunderstood a new task or instruction, changes are made so that she can get it right in the future.

In fact, there is mutual adaptation. Amelia developers new skills and expands her understanding of the fluidity of language (chickens are “dressed” with strings, not clothes), and her employers change their language to be more exact and approachable to their housekeeper (Mrs. Rogers learned to ask her to “close” rather than “draw” the drapes).

When the reality is that the burden of breaching gaps in understanding is placed almost exclusively on differently-abled people to change their language and communication styles, it is really encouraging to see an example of someone’s contacts working with them to create clarity. The Rogers’ efforts to accept and accommodate Amelia, and to see her as an asset and a person of value, speak well to the potential that can be reached when someone is seen for themselves and not thought of as lesser for it.

And after all, the world would be a far less fun and interesting place if there wasn’t occasionally someone who thinks the most reasonable interpretation of someone’s words is to put a chicken in lederhosen:

Image result for amelia bedelia dress the chicken
Author's disclaimer: In case it isn't clear, this post is all in fun. Of course Amelia Bedelia is never explicitly stated as being autistic, and the author's intention was probably not to portray her as such, but for the sake of fun, and because it feels good to relate to a character accepted and celebrated for her difference, this is the reading I chose. Please feel no obligation to agree.

My Broken Leg

Content warning: this post contains drawn out metaphors that may confuse rather than illuminate the issue.

I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 23.

It was summer, and I had been living with my parents again after leaving college in the middle of winter term in a non-functioning vegetable state.

I was seeing the forth therapist to whom I’d been referred in as many years, desperately searching for answers to why I was failing to function in life and school when I was, on paper, doing everything I was supposed to be.

In the months prior the school psychologists and the psychologist from my parent’s insurance had stamped me with “Severe Recurrent Anxiety and Depression,” and spent our sessions going over positive association and mindfulness – and I won’t knock those skills, they are valuable – but it never felt like the right help. I didn’t know what I needed, but it wasn’t this medication, or these journalling exercises.

It was like I’d taken a bad fall, and the nice people helping were cleaning and bandaging the cuts, but I couldn’t find the words to explain that the problem was that I’d actually broken my leg- I needed someone to put a splint on that, and then I could take care of the rest myself, but thank you for the antiseptic.

These friendly, well-meaning people were listening to my words, but I could never quite grab the right ones.

Then came doctor number four. (Let’s call her Diana, I expect she’ll come up quite a bit in this self-examination project.)

She came armed with bandages, but had the flexibility to set them aside when I said I needed something else, but I wasn’t sure what. She listened, and she worked in analogies too, and kept throwing out suggestions until one worked, but only kept it so long as it was helpful. We could locate the deeper problem, and one day she pulled down DSM and some tests and said she thought we had a match.

That’s a tidy narrative for a blog post, but of course that’s not all. I’m still walking around on a broken leg, trying to pretend it doesn’t hurt. I still don’t know what ASD means in my life, but I am clinging to the moniker “Aspie” with palpable relief that I’m not alone, and I’m not weird, and I’m not a failure. I’m adjusting to telling friends and family, with mixed responses and acceptance.

And I am extremely lucky. I have support in my life while I’ve fallen, and access to a medical team with experience with mental health issues. I am also lucky that Diane is able to translate to my frequency, and that I can ask her for resources and help with advocacy.

I’m high functioning and highly intelligent, and I’m starting to believe that I can be highly successful. My goal for this blog is to track that journey, to get my thoughts in order, and, if there’s ever anyone reading it down the line, to encourage them as others have encouraged me: you’re not alone.