FacebookPixel NoScript


Through My Autistic Eyes

By April 2, 2018May 25th, 2018Advice For Aspiring Writers

I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity and a sense of belonging (or not), both of which are major themes in Reinventing Hannah.

The story revolves around “good girl” Hannah who secretly longs to break the rules and “class clown” Brad who is hiding a ton of sensitivity and intelligence underneath his tendency to fool around and act like he doesn’t care about anything in the world, and how a tragedy draws them together and forces them to take off the masks and discover who each of them really is.

It happens, though, that April 2 is World Autism Day.

And it also happens that I am Autistic. I have Aspergers’ Syndrome, the type of high-functioning Autism that the DSM-5 has undefined out of existence but which still exists anyway and is very much a part of my life.

I was diagnosed with Aspergers’ Syndrome at the age of 33, and for me it was a relief.

It’s hard to describe what my pre-diagnosis life was like because nobody is just Aspergers/Autistic. We all have multiple identities and my childhood difficulties were bound up in all of them.

I was a shy, awkward kid who would have been happy never dealing with people. On the first day of first grade, I went all the way to a table at the back of the room to sit down because there was only one seat left and it was next to someone I did not know.

The teacher came into the room and said in a bright, positive tone of voice, “Oh, we can’t have you sitting back here! Let’s find you a seat.” She led me to the seat I had walked past and I was too shy to tell her that I already knew it was there and had deliberately chosen not to sit there.

Thus began 12 long years of school, in which I excelled academically but struggled to make friends.

Some of it was because I was a “weird” kid in the other kids’ eyes.

I preferred people in books to real people and was pretty obsessive about the books I read. In first grade I went through a Ramona the Pest phase where I would read the book over and over until the school library made me give it back and take something else. When the next person gave back Ramona the Pest I took it out again and read it another 50 times.

By second or third grade, my obsessions were a curious mixture of books on my grade level and books meant for high school or college students, and I was always reading during recess.

Outside of my books, in real life I was bullied a lot. I had large adnoids and always had a cold and I was as unathletic as I was academic.

I was also transgender, which made it difficult to fit in anywhere because most of the boys didn’t want to play with a “girl” and I didn’t fit in any better with the girls most of the time.

I was a shy, awkward kid who would have been happy never dealing with people. On the first day of first grade, I went all the way to a table at the back of the room to sit down because there was only one seat left and it was next to someone I did not know.

 As I got older, it got worse.

I was always a sensitive kid whose feelings were easily hurt (one of my only other memories of first grade is crying because a girl in my class said my coat was a winter coat instead of a “medium coat”) and by fourth grade I had a bad temper too.

I hadn’t outgrown temper tantrums despite being told over and over that other kids wouldn’t want to play with me if I threw tantrums and I was still getting bullied regularly.

I also had a hard time understanding how socializing worked at all and was constantly getting told by other kids to mind my own business when I tried to contribute to a conversation they were having.

And by high school it was bad enough that I literally had no friends at school and divided my time between talking to other teenagers in other parts the country online and fantasizing about that one kid I really, really liked and didn’t think could possibly like me back.

I also had a hard time letting anything go and despite my awkwardness around other kids, I wasn’t at all shy about telling teachers that I thought they were completely wrong.

Some teacher took points off of a multiple choice quiz for not choosing “author” as the correct answer to the sentence that so-and-so was the _____ of an invention and I fought him on it for weeks.

At first the other kids agreed with me and then later they told me I was being stupid and I should let it go, and I was really confused as to how they couldn’t see that this was still as important as it was when it had began.

Conversely, if I liked a teacher they could do no wrong, and other kids quickly figured out the best way to set me off was to say something negative about someone I liked.

It would be easy to blame all of these problems and others like them, some of which have followed me into adulthood, on my then undiagnosed Aspergers.

And yet…

I remember the time that someone at the temple I was going to turned to me and said, “There can’t be a God because if there was you wouldn’t have Aspergers.”

I was shocked. It had never occurred to me to be ashamed of my Autism, only to regret not knowing how my brain worked until later in life.

For me, the main thing diagnosis did was help things make sense. I understood why some of the problematic behaviors just didn’t go away as I grew older, why it was so hard for me to understand other people, why I felt so often disconnected from the rest of the world and sometimes so lonely.

It also allowed me to begin speaking to Autism groups. I’ve spoken to rooms full of parents who were hoping for some insight into how their Autistic children’s minds worked. I’ve connected with other people with Aspergers and Autism and been able to encourage them. I’ve grown to understand myself better through understanding how Aspergers works for me and the different ways it works for some others.

My earlier experiences were painful, but I think I have a deeper understanding of the desire to belong yet the inability to be other than I am as a result, and everything I write involves that theme in some way. Many of my characters are lonely and unsure of their place in the world at the beginning of their stories and on surer footing by the end, and my dream is to help other people — especially young people — find that place through writing and through the counseling I hope to do as a social worker.

My Autistic brain is part of who I am, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.