Let’s clear one thing up, right off the bat. I’m fifty-two, considering going back and taking a few classes to finish up a degree and I am terrified of math. I don’t get math, the math doesn’t get me and that’s just the way it is. It wasn’t always that way, though, There was a time when I was good at math, though to look at my grades you would definitely not know it. Let me tell you a story.
The year was 1982 and it was my first year at a small, mainly Dutch, Christian high school in Southern California. Being a small school, we only had a couple math teachers and I was lucky enough to get one of them as my homeroom teacher. This was back when we actually had homerooms and your first period wasn’t your homeroom. This homeroom teacher is now a Facebook friend and though I never had him for math, I really wish I had the opportunity to let him try and teach me.
No, I got stuck with the other math guy.
I got the guy who loved baseball players, was indifferent to most everyone else and though I’m sure he cared, was more than a bit gruff when it came to those who didn’t learn math his way. I didn’t learn math his way because I have an autistic brain. I didn’t know it at the time because there was no such thing as autism until I was well out of high school, but that doesn’t really matter.
Back then I was actually pretty good at math/algebra, whatever you want to call it in high school. My problem was that even though I got the answers right because my brain worked differently, I showed the work in a way other than he taught it. Since my work didn’t match his work in the way he taught it, I received D’s and F’s.
That killed my self-esteem, my desire to take math and numbers in general.
What would have happened to my life had I received A’s and B’s and been rewarded for getting the right answers and obviously not cheating? Would I have gone into another field where I could have supported myself and my daughter better throughout life? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.
Imagine what it’s like to be in high school, get the answers right all on your own and basically have a teacher tell you to sit down, shut up, deal with the grades I’m given and, “put in the effort to learn it the right way.” If I had the answers right, I apparently was learning math in a correct way, just not the way it was being taught.
My brain looked at the problem and saw it in a different way. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the Aspie out of the box thinking. I simply found another way to solve the problem correctly.
I graduated in 1984, which means that thirty-four years have passed and I’m still deathly afraid of math. I didn’t know what else to do besides retreat into my own world and take as little math as possible. My parents weren’t understanding, but why should they have been? There was no research or discovery to tell them that there may be something different in the way I process things, so they just kept on me about my grades.
“You’re not living up to your potential,” is what I heard from my parents on what seemed like a daily basis.
I was trying to live up to my potential and in my mind, because I was getting the answers right without cheating, I was living up to my potential. But report cards don’t lie and the grades showed that I wasn’t living up to my potential. I’ve carried that with me for thirty-four years and I’m sure I’ll carry it with me until the day I die.
Let’s fast forward to the present and look at kids in high school today. It could be math, or maybe English, history or any number of subjects that an Aspie struggles with. The help that’s supposed to be there for these kids now that autism, Asperger’s and spectrum disorders have been identified often isn’t.
Kids today who have IQ’s off the chart will get stuck in special ed classes because they struggle in one or two areas and because they’re socially awkward. That’s not right at all. It holds the student back, throws a label on them and kills their self-esteem as bad, if not worse than mine was back in 1982-1984.
My focus is on high school age as well as college and adults because the reality is that we’re the forgotten ones when it comes to autism. The overwhelming majority of money earmarked for autism at both the federal level and through charities is directed towards young children.
There’s nothing wrong with directing money towards helping children, but it does hinder the work being done for the 50,000 + high functioning autistics who turn eighteen each year.
I listen to parents talk about their kid’s IEP (Individualized Educational Program) and what I hear is a joke. These kids on the spectrum are told that they will get certain help to overcome the challenges they face in school, be it math, reading or whatever subject. When it comes right down to it, the vast majority of these kids get very little of the promised help, if any at all.
One would think in the thirty-four years since I graduated high school, with the discovery of autism and how to help, that we as a society would be doing more for our future generations, but we’re not. All we’re doing is creating a bunch of new J.R.’s who will go on to have big self-esteem problems in life because no one can recognize that we think differently and that we’re not developmentally disabled.
Just because we use our brains in a different manner doesn’t mean that we should be shoved into, as one Special Services Director for a school district recently put it, SPED classes. SPED is code for Special Ed.
Special ed is the last place a student with Asperger’s belongs.
Remembering that high functioning autistics tend to be out of the box thinkers, do you really want to stick the smart kids of our next generation, the ones who have great opportunities to fix the problems we face now and will face in our future, in special ed because they struggle in one subject and are a little socially awkward?
I can only speak on my behalf, but I don’t want to see them there. I want to see them thrive, become educated and grow up to be the thinkers and leaders of a new generation. Just as I wonder what could have been in my life had I been given the opportunity to get good grades in math instead of being made to feel like an idiot and a moron for not doing the work the same way, I wonder what will happen with our next generation if we keep blowing off their IEPs and sticking them off to the side instead of working with us and our unique set of challenges and abilities.
So what’s it going to be? Are the Aspies of the world going to keep getting pigeonholed and shoved in the corner or are we going to be respected as individuals and treated like regular people instead of someone special? What are we going to do about it? Are we going to sit back and take it or are we going to fight for our rights?
I don’t ever want to hear another story of someone who has lived with the shame and negativity I’ve lived with because of math or another subject in school. Let’s band together and fight back for our rights as people. Who’s with me?
I’m proud to be a guest on a nationally known autism podcast next week. You can catch me on the Elijah Winfrey Show chatting with Eli and Toni about growing up off the spectrum and about my new book that’s currently at #26 on the Amazon Hot New Dating Releases chart! I’ll be live on Tuesday, May 15 at 11 am Pacific.
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 blue. 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.
An Asperger’s Guide to Dating Neurotypicals is out on Amazon, Kindle and autographed copies are available for the same price on the J.R. Reed Author website. If you’re of dating age and are on the spectrum or love someone who is, I recommend this book for you. It’s written in a simple, easy to understand way and talks about the importance of communication as well as other time-tested principles.