The Astonishing Confessions Of an Unknowing Autistic Boy Imagine never having heard the word "autism." And what's a spectrum?
Yes. That’s unknowingly autistic me in Sixth Grade. Make all the jokes you want. I’ve heard ’em all before.
Close your eyes and…NO wait! Forget that. If you did that you’d never get through this article, but keep the thought in mind and throw in some soft music after and only after you finish reading.
I’m a high functioning autistic with Asperger’s and to me that was funny. If you’re not laughing, let me say that another autistic would be laughing right now. It’s really that good to think that I would suggest you close your eyes as you begin reading some information that could be very helpful or possibly even change your life!
The truth is that I grew up in the olden days, I was a junior in high school before we got computers in high school and we had those floppy discs and some “C:/” somethingorother. The words, “autism” and “autistic” were first used in schools ten years after I graduated in the min ’80’s. There was no spectrum until four or five years ago and, “Asperger’s Syndrome” wasn’t too far behind, “autism.”
I was a weird kid, not THE weirdest, but pretty close. Not really a traditional geek, dweeb, nerd nor whatever it is that the kids are calling it these days, I was just strange. I was the outsider. Though an athlete in the top 25-30% of his middle school, I often found myself on the very end of one bench, watching the game and wishing I hadn’t been told I wasn’t needed.
Starting in fifth grade and going all the way through high school, I went to Christian school. It’s at that point in my life that I really remember being publically ridiculed in classrooms full of mainly fifth-tenth graders, by the teachers, for being autistic and not knowing it.
Believe me when I say those memories stick with you. Especially when you’re not Dutch in a high school where 85-90% of the students and faculty were Dutch Christian Reformed. The chants of, “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much,” still ring in my ears from time to time. I was tormented for being Lutheran and half German-half English
The last few weeks, in particular, I feel like I have to explain nearly everything I say and I hate it not only because it sucks in ways you can only imagine but also because it makes me sound like a pompous douche, which I do my best not to be. I’m not a pompous douche, I’m just autistic and don’t take crap for being that way.
There were happy moments in my childhood to be sure, but honestly, unless I think really, really deeply in my mind and really focus, I can’t remember them. I came from a home where my parents were married for 46 years when my dad passed away from colon cancer., so things were pretty steady on the home front.
I played two seasons of little league, badly, without ever once getting a hit and soccer poorly until I hit about 16. Around tha ttime I gained coordination and was finally good enough to get a soccer scholarship from a lower mid-level NAIA school located in a town in Nebraska where the students made up half the population.
What that means is this. I was just good enough for a nothing school that I had applied to and that didn’t recruit me, so I became a, Uh, I seriously don’t even remember what our mascot was. And I don’t care enough to look Anyway, I became one of them and I got my traditional number 16. And I played. On a pretty regular basis.
You see, it turns out that the coach was also the economics teacher and, having no actual soccer coach on staff, he agreed to go to a summer camp to learn how to coach soccer. Every player on that team knew more about the game than Coach Whatshisname. If you’re drinking something I beg you to empty your mouth before continuing.
It also turns out that coach coached directly out of the manual. The book says that on week 8 practice 3 you highlight various moves on corner kicks. Did it matter that we scored on an overwhelming average of corner kick opportunities but that for some reason we loved letting the wings in behind us and the opposing offense is destroying our walls? Nope. Because that day we were working on corner kicks for two hours.
God help us, we were mediocre in spite of ourselves.
I was the backup goalkeeper and a pretty physical two-way halfback. There were times we would just let go, find our groove and play a street game. There were als0of a lot of times there was physical punishment for not plying his 1950’s era textbook style in the fall of 1984.
College had its own set of problems, but let’s trip farther down memory lane and visit the sixth grade me above. I remember virtually nothing about my much younger days, but my first memory and only young memory is being four and sitting the stairs of our rented condo in Cypress, CA. We were moving out and just a few miles away to a brand new home in a city called Seal Beach.
The next thing I remember (seriously) is being in fifth-grade and having my teacher call me weird, stupid and lazy, I heard those same three words all the way through ninth grade. Its as if, “say this to him on a regular basis” was written in Sharpie on my permanent file. I wonder if there are still files going back to the late 70’s that I could look at to verify that? I may now be on an Aspe mission.
I also remember my mother telling me constantly that I wasn’t living up to my potential. To my brain, which at the time I had no clue was wired differently than anyone else’s or that such a possibility even existed, everything is logical.
To live up to my potential is to succeed. To not live up to that potential, is not succeeding, and not succeeding equals failing. I didn’t understand until many years later that she never meant it the way I took it.
In fact, she was trying to encourage me, but because I was on a different wavelength from her, as is most of society, I took it literally and logically and heard my mother call me a failure, even though she wasn’t calling me that at all.
There were other thingsfrom my childhood, such as coaches telling me they only played a half a game because they had to and being called “Weed” growing up because of a speech impediment which has now gone away.
There were the things that I was called by the students, understanding that back then we did not have the inclusion and acceptance of the LGBQ community, as we would today and that we have advanced in our language when it comes to describing others.
I could talk for days about the memories from my childhood, the best ones, barely mediocre. The point is that whether you grew up in a time before we knew about autism or if you’re currently a parent of an autistic child. good or bad, our brains are always processing the things that go into it and good stimuli lead to good responses.
We’re weird. I’ll admit it and be the first to raise my hand, I’ve said on many occasions and I’ve titled my next book, Asperger’s Is My Superpower. Back when I was in school and, to be honest, through my diagnosis at age 46 and slightly beyond, I was confused about why I did some of the quirky or idd things I did and the weird things that happened over and over now made more sense.
You have no idea how great that feeling is to finally have things make sense to a man in his mid-late forties. I imagine that for someone 10 or 12 with their whole life in front of them to at least know they’re high on the spectrum and have opportunities I didn’t have has to be more of a blessing than you’ll ever know. Just with that in your pocket, you have an advantage over me. You know now why you do the quirky things that make you, you. It took me 46 years.
I didn’t know until I was 46 and by then I had become pretty much brainwashed that I was a weird loser that would never amount to anything. It took a while to knock most of it away, but I still have my days where I believe it. I seriously do. Over 100 articles in 30 different magazine titles and a dozen newspapers plus scores of websites including Good Men Project where I write a weekly column and I feel like a loser. I remember the day I wish my name was in one of them. How viciously and tight that depression takes over.
Your Aspie child may not have certain memories of events you think are important but he or she doesn’t have control over which memories ultimately stay and which ones go. As I said, I know I had a good childhood, but the memories I have are bad. I still love my mom (my dad passed away) and I know that she’s always loved me and wanted the best for me. I now know what she means by not living up to my potential and at 52 I finally have things figured out.
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An Asperger’s Guide To Dating Neurotypicals is out and hit #23 on the Amazon Hot New Dating Releases Chart. You can find it on Amazon and Kindle or get an autographed copy for the same price at the J.R. Reed Author website.
Before I go, I belong to a closed Facebook group, Aspergers Life Support, run by some terrific people. There’s a link on the right or you can click on the words in purple. If you have Aspergers or are a loving NT of an Aspie, I definitely suggest asking to join the group. They’re great people and have helped me on many occasions.