Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Journey, Part 1: Elementary school

I figured I'd start off this blog with my own history, how I was diagnosed and what I've come from.  Part one covers my life prior to diagnosis.  This will probably be familiar to any parents with young kids on the high end of the Autistic spectrum, male or female.

I was always an odd kid.  Maybe my parents should have seen the signs earlier, but for whatever reason, they didn't.  I grew up in a normal suburban neighborhood on a small cul de sac with my mom, dad and older brother.  From an early age I was obsessed with cooking and spent most of my time making "meals" in my kitchen set and trying to help out in the real kitchen, swearing that my life goal was to be a chef.  Family members gave me cookbooks and kitchen tools and invited me to help with making meals - they found the obsession cute and entirely normal for a little girl.

Maybe that's a factor which separates female aspies from males, that our obsessions are more often animals and cooking and dolls instead of vacuum cleaners and trains and organic chemistry.  Like most AS girls, my obsessions go through phases.  By fifth grade the cooking phase was gone and I was obsessed with wolves instead.  This has continued to shift throughout my life.

The first two years of school for me were more or less normal.
  In kindergarten and first grade I read more than almost anything else and was over my grade level, though I lagged behind on math.  I had friends and was able to play pretty much normally with the other kids without seeming too out of place.  However, this started falling apart in second grade.  My oddities became more noticeable and my interests were unchanged from kindergarten, making me stick out to the other kids who had moved on by that point.  Nearly every friend I had gained was lost, and I was left with one lone friend, Kate*, a girl who had moved to the area midway through the year.  We were both a little strange and spent our recesses together, playing Sailor Moon near the storm drain and battling magical monsters.

Elementary school was hard on me.  My strength and weaknesses became more obvious with every passing year - I was far over my grade level at reading and writing, okay with history and lagging behind in math and science.  Social difficulties just got harder as well.  I tended to stare off into space, even if someone was occupying that space and insisted on doing things my way.  Working with other kids in group projects was difficult because I became so frustrated with them and I would beg the teachers to let me do everything myself.  Even if it was a big project, I found working alone easier than with anyone else.

Discipline was a problem as well.  Hardly a week went by without ending up in the principal's office, usually for freaking out at someone in class.  He became biased against me over time because I lacked the social skills to explain what had happened without making myself look worse.  One particular incident sticks out in my mind from these trips.  I was told that because I couldn't look the principal in the eyes, I was automatically guilty and was made to write lines even though I hadn't done what I was accused of.  It was frustrating and scary for me because I didn't know why I couldn't look at eyes, I just knew that it made me uncomfortable.

Perhaps the worst part of all of this, worse than any teasing of my peers or being kicked around on the playground, was that the teachers laughed at me.  Teachers are supposed to be professional but instead laughed at me when I did something particularly weird.  I howled in the hallway and three broke down into serious giggles, not even attempting to hide the fact that they were openly laughing at me.  I couldn't trust them and felt unwanted by nearly everyone in school.

By fifth grade I was started into talk therapy, one hour every week, and diagnosed with ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder, a label which hasn't stuck with me.  I was becoming depressed and acting out more.  My grades were average though I could have been doing a lot better.  It wouldn't be until middle school when a name for what I am would be attached to me.

Elementary school had a big impact on me, one which stays with me to this day.  I'm still dealing with scars which formed in those early years.  All kids start forming a self-image in elementary school, and mine was becoming "weird, isolated, hated", a label which wouldn't start to change until late high school.

Up next, Part 2: Middle school and being diagnosed.

*Names have been changed.

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