I had my formal introduction to autism when I began working as substitute teacher’s assistant in my hometown. The assignments are mostly for special education classes where aides are required. Some of the classes are mostly, or all, autistic students. I was drawn to them and didn’t know why until I crossed paths with one whose behavior mirrored so closely mine. The young girl was like the street lamp leading me to the name of the street I had been living on for over five decades.
Since the diagnosis, episodes of my childhood have been replaying in my mind. I recently subbed at the very elementary school I attended way back when and memories flooded my mind throughout that day.
What was it like as a child with undiagnosed autism?
I went through my entire adolescence without a curfew. I had no phone in my room or desire for one. I wasn’t the life of the few parties I attended. Loneliness wasn’t around when I played with my imaginary playmates as I paced in my room or some other private place. I could be anyone I wanted to be and be the star as well as the director in my imaginary world.
I didn’t think as a child that I was obedient to routine but I was. A change in my daily routine was as upsetting as I suppose it would be for a bird to be in a no-fly zone. Criticism was an unwelcomed visitor. Even a slight word of criticism could shut me down! Even at my age, criticism can still have the same effect.
My Mom never had to tell me to do my homework. I worried more about my classwork than my Mom did. I usually made the honor roll. When I had a test to study for, I went over and over and over it in my room as if I was the teacher giving the class lecture. I recall astonishing my hisory teacher with my memory of events, names, and dates. Although I could memorize facts and figures, I would have no understanding of much of what I memorized.
The spectrum isn’t a rose garden without thorns. It wouldn’t have disorder at the end of it if it did. Despite the hardships of the past and present, I accept the diagnosis as a gift. It is a good thing to know the name of the street I have been living on.