Autism and Me, Part One: Public School Attitude

I was born in the early 70’s, so my public school years stretched through until 1990. Yes. I am that magnificently old of a fogey. Back in the 70’s, Asperger’s didn’t exist. Even if it did, I didn’t fit all the checkboxes. I still don’t. That’s possibly another story for another time. Let me know if y’all are interested.

But I digress.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, there wasn’t anything about Autism available to the common throng. I saw a counsellor in my early years and the official diagnosis was “brilliant, but disorganised”. I was a smart kid. I liked fancy words and I liked the kind of entertainment that stood against the mainstream humdrum.

I didn’t have much of a problem with school… Not really. I had a problem with my peers.

I was “the weird kid”. The iconoclast who was so strange that I might as well be an alien. I did not get along with the “normal” kids when I was a little nugget. One of their more favoured taunts was interrogative:

“WHY CAN’T YOU BE NORMAL?”

This said in the sort of tone of voice that the allegedly mentally superior use as a weapon against the mentally challenged.

If you’d ever heard it, you would hate it with the same abundance that I have for that particular tone of voice. Every person with a physical or mental disability has heard it at some point in their life. There’s just something about the slow, monotonous cadence that just… instantly raises the hackles.

I used to call it “retard voice” in a less politically correct era. I don’t know what to call it now. It needs a snappy nickname that trips off the tongue and encapsulates exactly what they nypical is doing without also offending the victims of it.

Suggestions welcome.

Back to the point.

I did not have a diagnosis – but I was still Autistic. I didn’t have much in the way of a support structure, either. I was expected to sink or swim on my own and I definitely developed more than a few toxic coping strategies. Bloody-minded determination could plausibly count, but it got me through my education by the power of, “Oh I can’t, can’t I? Just watch me!”

…and that’s how I bull-headed my way through an IT degree that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on… But I digress.

I couldn’t be normal. After watching how the “normal” people treated me? I didn’t want to be normal either. They were cruel, disgusting, and had an unnerving habit of believing in things that were obviously not true if they could just be bothered to find out.

I was… annoyed… by the people I shared school with.

My teachers… varied. Some saw a brilliant mind and did what they could to help. Some saw an antisocial loner and attempted to “help” by forcing me to share air with the same nypicals that used That Voice on me and somehow increase my friend count by magical osmosis. A rare few saw a statistical outlier who hadn’t been pummeled into conforming, yet, and thought small doses of verbal abuse would help with that.

The less said about them, the better. Let’s just say a few of them thought it was hilarious to comment on aspects of my physical appearance that I could not change, and leave it there.

Some time during my stint in High School, I learned to turn invisible.

I have no control over it. I just… fade into the background at random moments. I get ignored… but never by the people I wanted to ignore me. I still don’t understand it.

I still have a liking for the places where nobody goes; for the little, quiet nooks that I’m guaranteed to be left alone. I like solitude and will soak in it until the lack of companionable touch poisons me with depression.

Thanks to my experiences in the past, I have a had time trusting strangers. This doesn’t mean I’m hostile – I honestly try to be friendly to everyone, it’s just… I never know when someone is going to try and hurt me, mentally or physically. Because I had thirteen years of daily abuse from random people who decided that today was the day to say something horrible in That Voice to me. Because I was the local Other for others to practice their micro-aggressions on. Because hundreds of people thought it was funny to pile antagonisms upon until I snapped.

My time in public schooling has left me with a lot of scars. Many of them can’t be understood from the outside. Many of them have taken a long time to heal even partially. Many more have slightly more healthy work-arounds to keep them quelled.

I was The Victim for a majority of my formative years, and like most victims in this world, I was blamed for the abuses I attracted. If I just tried to be friendly… if I just worked harder to play well with others… if I just did things like everyone else did… if I just stopped being so strange…

That was then.

Now, there’s a lot more room to move in the Autism label. There’s three main aspects that the common throng understand and, despite Burden Porn still being abundant, there’s growing understanding of my condition. There’s growing resources for kids who have it. There’s books for every level of understanding, from Toddler through to Advanced.

Now, they have programs. It’s a leap I wish I had back in the day… but back in the day, my diagnosis wasn’t possible. It didn’t exist. Autism, when it was a diagnosis, was for the kids who had an abundance of severe symptoms. The ones who could not be controlled like the lesser cases.

I’m glad things have changed. I’m glad my little darlings are having an easier time of things than I did. I can wish those things were there for me, but that doesn’t change shit.

Attitudes are improving. Schools are improving. The state of affairs is improving. It’s just happening too late for me.

It kind’a pisses me off that the assistance available kicks in after I’m through the window where I’d have needed it. That’s all. It’s frustrating.

At least it’s only frustrating for me.

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