Speaking up

Today is Autistics Speaking Day. No connection to a certain organization that thinks Autistics can’t speak. It’s about Autistics telling their stories. So, here’s mine.

I went to public schools in the US. I have memories of being derided by peers, shunned, called to the office and generally “not good” times. I often wonder why my parents didn’t “crack” more often given how much trouble I got in to. Note to self: Arguing with teachers when you are the student is relatively impossible.

I had good times too. Caring teachers including Bob Cleckner, Randy Nissly and Carol Dunning. There were others who allowed me to embrace my inner weirdo. I wrote papers on Norse Mythology for Gayle Fisher because everyone else wrote about Greek or Roman. Let’s just say that not having the Internet in 1985 made that project very challenging. And yet, she let me go and learn instead of trying to force me into a box.

I still believe that is the key to my relatively successful adult career. My actions and thoughts may seem “not mainstream” but I’ve learned that’s okay. I’ve learned to express myself in ways that while “not mainstream,” are close enough to be interesting. It’s okay that my stream runs parallel to others. It makes life more interesting and certainly more satisfying.

I was diagnosed 2 years ago as an adult. To borrow some words…suddenly things made more sense to me. At first, I tried to carry on as I always had. Now I openly embrace my neurodiversity. I tell people. Not all the time, but if they comment on the way I present things, I will say that thinking differently allows me to expand their horizons. That being Autistic is challenging, but not impossible. That I can still hold a job and a conversation, even at the same time <sarcasm>.

I have been fortunate that the only abuse inflicted upon me was through the standard punishments at school. I don’t recall that I was singled out. I was in the office a lot, but so were many other kids. I spent my fair share of being grounded at home. Through the long lens of time, I actually had a pretty awesome childhood.

I feel for those who didn’t have the opportunities I did. No Autistic should be penalized for being Autistic. I do remember that we had special schools and that I did not see a person with a permanent disability in my class until about 1980. I can’t tell you what went on in those schools other than my mother volunteered at one.

I can tell you that in 1992 I worked in a school in Virginia that still had a “quiet room” that was padded. Most of the students spent some time in there every day. I will also say that it was a school for the emotionally disabled. After being punched and kicked a few times, I understood why the room was used. Students were not placed there just for verbally lashing out. It is hard to describe even now. I’m not sure that de-escalation techniques would have worked. I do remember that there were safety checks every 3-5 minutes and as soon as the student was done with physical lashing out, we brought them out and processed the what’s and why’s. No student spent more than 15 minutes in the room.

Today, I volunteer my time helping families affected by Autism. I help schools recognize the need for differentiated instruction. I speak for students who are struggling in mainstream classes. I speak for self-determination and recognition of different, not less.

So, there it is. As an adult, I am reflecting on the impact of Autism on my life. I understand not everyone shares my experiences. I do want people to understand that what shaped me as a child continues to impact me as an adult. I take the good with the bad and try to make the best of it.


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