Middle school. The darkest and most hideous, oppressive years a human can fathom. When the hormones are just ripe enough to make you want to take on the whole world, but maturity has not yet developed enough to realize there are things such as consequences. But me, I did not get into any real trouble, instead I became profoundly confused and unhappy. These are years that are difficult to handle under even the best of circumstances. On top of this, my family moved from the Northeast to the Southwest just as I was about to start middle school. To take a young child from one environment and to suddenly thrust them into new ones is very distressing and painful.
For the Autistic it can be hell. Somehow I managed to survive it all, and to escape being beat up by the other kids. One thing I didn’t escape? Humiliation. I had a tendency to laugh uncontrollably at the things I thought were funny at the time. I had always been led to believe that laughing at someone’s joke was the best genuine way to prove that you understood it, and that you admired their sense of wit. But somehow, laughing at everyone’s joke meant I was weird. Wanting to learn was weird. Humming music that I liked was weird. Reading books that I wasn’t required to because of a class was weird. My hair was weird.
Seriously. Other than my hair, someone explain to me what’s weird about any of that.
I remember how years back, I had a cap with a tag on the underside that claimed, “One size fits all!” At the time, even as a child, this was puzzling. Did it have some kind of elastic property to it that wasn’t immediately obvious? Did it have a strap on one side that could shrink or enlarge the fitting? Or was it something else beyond my understanding? It turned out there was nothing particularly special about it and it most certainly will not fit properly on everyone who tries to put it on. Autism refers to a very broad spectrum. There are people within the spectrum who are fully capable of registering and understanding the materials I read and write on a regular basis, there are others far beyond my own level of language and comprehension, and then there are others who barely register their immediate surroundings at all.
There’s no one, singular face of Autism. We are many, and there’s not one, nice, neat little way of summing up what an Autistic person that you meet will actually be like. This is a hard truth for researchers and scientists, no matter what their field of expertise: trends and labels are convenient and easy to read, but they aren’t always truly reliable.
An undiagnosed childhood, or the “unnamed beast”…
That’s how I thought of it at first. That is, when I first realized it had been there all along, without my having realized what it was to begin with. I’m talking about Autism. Yes, you can define it through technical or psychological means. But I’ll tell you what it means from the perspective of someone who was born with it.
It means you see, think, look and feel differently from what most people expect of you, and, unfortunately, for many, it means feeling a little awkward at best, oftentimes left out on the average, or being utterly ignored at worst. But when I was a child, like many adults who are now being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, literally no one had any idea what was really happening in my brain. Misunderstandings, misdiagnoses and misfortunes tend to follow any dealings with the unknown.