An essay written by a Davidson Institute Young Scholar.
I am sure every teen would say “no one understands me,” but I believe my statement is different in many respects. I believe no one has ever really understood me, I don’t even totally understand myself and I have worked very hard on this with counselors and other professionals. All of my life both teachers and kids have never really tried to understand me, they just looked at me as weird. School was so rough my first year that I changed schools after Kindergarten to attend the school where my mother teaches. I started medication which helped me stay out of trouble (no more frequent flier passes to the principal). In elementary school kids are “forced” to be nice so I thought I had friends. But I didn’t understand the definition of “friend” until I became older so it is not surprising that I don’t really see any of my “friends” from back then anymore. Elementary school was boring but the teachers were impressed with what I knew. One teacher would have this talk with me before she taught a lesson, she said “I know you already know all about this lesson but the rest of the class needs to figure this out on their own, so I need to you sit quietly and not answer the questions. I will call on you and let you talk at the end.” So I spent much of elementary school reading a book and waiting. It is a good thing for them that my medication worked.
When I skipped a grade going into middle school, I wondered how I was going to make friends when I’d left all my old ones behind. To keep me going, I told myself that I would have enough friends by my birthday to have a good birthday party. I only ever made two or three friends. The rest were acquaintances at best. In middle school nobody really respected me for being intelligent anymore. Instead, they looked at me as a know-it-all or a teacher’s pet whenever I raised my hand in class. But I had two strikes against me, I was smart and I didn’t speak the teenager code. This is the kiss of death in middle school. The teenage code is spoken in language I could not understand. The teenage code is expressed in words, clothing, actions, and gestures. Latin was easier to learn than this illogical teenage language. I did however quickly learn one part of the teenage code – the social ladder. My position on the bottom rungs made it impossible for kids I knew since birth to talk to me in the halls at school. I respected this as part of the “code” which probably saved me some additional teasing. Not only did I have to deal with the teenage code, I now had to learn new people for every class. This is especially hard for someone who has problems with faces. In 7th grade I remember trying to get everyone straight in a class where we had to do a lot of group work. I finally got it right near the end of the year after one boy dyed his hair pink for wacky hair day and it didn’t wash out for 2 weeks. This provided enough of a clue for me to finally match the person to a name. In 8th grade, I relished the time I spent in the Counselor’s office working on high school level courses. There, I was able to get away from it all. I was even allowed to eat lunch there. This time away was refreshing because many things about school are overwhelming. I never liked the lunchroom. It was crowded and noisy and you had to shout to make yourself heard. Retrieving items from a locker can be brutal. There isn’t enough space to get in and if you wait your turn you may be late. In the hurry of everything, you have to deal with other locker doors slamming into you, and then the guilty people running off without a word. The halls are crowded and loud, even the lights can be annoying. Much of this over stimulation can be dealt with and temporarily pushed aside, unless you are having a bad day and then it overflows. Several times in both 7th and 8th grade I succumbed to tears, feeling that it was all hopeless. I developed a reputation as a crybaby. My classmates would say, “Aw, are you going to cry?” That teasing, in itself, made me cry. Teachers didn’t always stop the teasing, either. I even ended up quitting choir, one of my favorite activities, because the teasing went uncontrolled all year in that class.
When I left middle school, I dreaded high school, assuming it to be the worst bump in the road. More teasing, more people cussing, people two or three feet taller than me; these were all very terrifying prospects. I begged my parents to have me home schooled. However, on my first true day of high school, it was not nearly as bad as I’d expected. I found myself in a classroom environment in which I made friends and acquaintances. When I started doing extracurricular activities, however, that was when I made true, honest to goodness, friends. There was one boy who was a freshman, like me, but was taking the same sophomore class I was. We both were in Debate, orchestra, and Quiz Bowl. I loved being among people with the same interests as me, rather than the random jumble we are placed in classes. That was when I realized that all my “friends” before had been people who had perhaps sympathized with me, perhaps felt pity, and so they allowed me into their small “group”. However, my new friends understood what I said without me having to explain myself. They thought my quirks were interesting rather than freaky or weird, and even when they got annoyed with me, never yelled. Even recently, during a Speech and Debate meeting, when someone cussed at me really horribly, it was the opinion of most of the team to have the offender kicked out. One member even called me at home to make sure I was okay. These are things friends do and I am beginning to understand this. I try to be a friend back by doing these things as well. I also do my best to communicate properly, but social jokes often go over my head. I get very confused when I make an innocent comment and have everyone burst out laughing because of the way it sounded. Luckily, now there is almost always someone there to explain it to me.
Contributed by: Parent on 2/3/2012
My eight-year-old daughter was just diagnosed with high ed AS, and as you said, nobody understood you. I did not understand my daughter until now, sadly. I am so grateful to finally be able to have a perspective at least of what AS is. It's hard not knowing what a child is going through and feeling you cannot help. You are a brave, talented individual and will continue to go far in life. Don't ever let anyone make you think different. Thanks so much for sharing - you truly are "gifted" in so many ways.