Thoughts on Growing Up With Autism

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This post will contain a collection of short journal entries I wrote recently about what it was like emotionally to grow up with autism. These thoughts specifically dealt with bullying and (for me) the most confusing time of adolescence, which was middle school and the beginning of high school. By the last couple years of high school I had figured some things out and learned how to “pretend” to fit in a bit better, even though deep down I still felt like an oddball.

Here goes:

I hated always being the butt of the joke – even among friends. I was naive. I was gullible. I was trusting. Too many times I was set up for humiliation or embarrassment.

In an effort to avoid this embarrassment, I quit trusting anyone. I quit taking anyone at their word. I became suspicious. I struggled to identify sarcasm, so I started assuming ALL was sarcasm unless I knew someone well enough to tell the difference. 

Due to this struggle with recognizing sarcasm, how many “mean” comments did I take to heart that were meant in jest? How many cruel words that cut me to the core, were never even meant to be cruel? When boys would say they liked me and I would take it as them mocking me and choose to ignore them or laugh at their “joke”, did I instead end up hurting their feelings in an effort to save my own? 

Bullied for my weight during middle school, accused of having a lack of “feeling” or frustrating others who thought I didn’t care about anything because I suffered from selective mutism under stress, constantly feeling reminded that I wasn’t “feminine” enough – this was much of my teenage experience.  

The common thread throughout was that I unknowingly made myself a target for abuse. The way I dressed. The way I talked. The way I acted. I was so desperate for acceptance and approval, but I reached for them in ways that were socially unacceptable to those around me and ended up only painting the bulls-eye larger on myself.  

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I Survived the Birthday Party!

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Just a few of the leftover treats!

A few of you seemed like you wanted an update about how my husband’s birthday party went yesterday (if you didn’t read my post yesterday, you can find it here). Most of the really bad nerves happened before the party and on the way there, which is pretty normal for me. I had an IBS attack about a half hour before leaving the house (nausea, diarrhea, cramps – the whole shebang). On the drive to the party, I noticed my right leg was shaking pretty bad (a sure sign of anxiety), which made driving even more uncomfortable.

However, once I arrived at the school, it didn’t go too bad. Checking in at the front office wasn’t nearly as scary as I had imagined, although the receptionist was kind of grumpy. They had me stay in the office until the party was ready, as they wanted to surprise my husband. When they were ready, I joined the kids in my husband’s class and his assistants on their way back to the classroom from music class. We all got to my husband’s classroom and sang Happy Birthday to him and had some cupcakes. There was a ton of other food there as well – a huge assortment of candy, an amazing cream cheese peanut butter cake, chocolate covered pretzels, chips and salsa, and more.

Meeting my husband’s assistants (and a few other school employees) went ok. They were nice and friendly, although I did feel pretty shy. I had to ask my husband a few times if they were kidding or not when they said certain things, because I genuinely have a hard time deciphering whether people I don’t know well are being sarcastic or for real when they talk. One of the highlights of the party was meeting one student’s therapy dog. Meeting people fills me with anxiety, but meeting animals is always pure joy! I also got a couple hugs from my husband’s students, which was sweet.

After the party I was definitely relieved to get back home, but proud that I went. I know it meant a lot to my husband, so it was worth it.

I Have Autism, and I Yearn to Feel I Belong

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This may be a post that is hard for neurotypicals to relate to – I’m honestly not sure. But, as someone who has high-functioning autism (Aspergers), I find that I have always had a deep internal yearning for something that I don’t know how to get or how to keep – and that is a true sense of belonging. I have had fleeting moments of feeling like I belong in a group. Lunches with friends at school, days at work where I laughed along with the others and felt like part of the gang, or even last year, when I was hospitalized and briefly came to feel at home among the other patients.

But none of these lasted. The very next day, or even the next hour, I could easily be feeling like an outsider again, like someone with their nose pressed to the window, watching the motion and activity inside with longing. Even among friends, it was often clear that I was “the weird one”, the one that was sometimes liked, but never completely understood. I often felt like I was an alien being in a foreign world, and sometimes I still feel that way.

Now, since I don’t have to attend work or school outside of my home, I am not forced into regular contact with others and the chances of feeling a part of a group are even less likely to occur. I can go out and seek groups, and sometimes do, but I never really end up feeling a part of them. I am not a cog in the gears of a greater machine, I am a spare part left on the table.

The best way I know to describe the yearning inside is to share the first few lines from the theme song to the old tv show, Cheers:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
The troubles are all the same
You want to be where where everybody knows your name

That is what I want, but realistically, I could hang out at a bar EVERY SINGLE DAY and I’d be lucky if anyone learned my name…and I can’t help but feel that is my own fault. I’ve seen others who can walk into a place and in a few minutes, they are no longer a stranger to anyone. It is almost like a magical ability, and is clearly one I’ll never have.

My New Year’s Intentions for 2015

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Happy soon-to-be New Year everyone! Around this time of year, I always like to pause and assess my life. I decide what is going good, what I need to leave behind and what I might want to work on. I don’t like to make “New Year’s resolutions” because that phrasing to me seems to have guilt built into it. When people make New Year’s resolutions, they tend to feel guilty if they fail or make a mistake and eventually just give up. I like the phrase “New Year’s intentions” better because it doesn’t have that stigma to it and to me, intentions are about trying to do the right thing. Sure, we all mess up and even epically fail sometimes, but as long as we keep getting up and trying, I don’t think we truly ever lose.

So here are my three New Year’s intentions for 2015 –

1. Focus on health. I have many health problems that I can’t do anything about, however, I do have control over some of my health and unfortunately, I often ignore the importance of taking care of myself. So for 2015 I plan to try to exercise at least 3-4 times a week (even if I can only do light exercise like walking and yoga). I will not push myself too hard or make myself do things that cause real pain, but I can try to work within my physical limitations. I will also try to eat better. I won’t force myself to give up things I love (like chocolate), but I will try to consciously pick out more fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy grains at the grocery store (because if I buy healthier foods, I will eat healthier foods).

2. Be more social. A few years ago I had to be more social. But now that I work at home, have taken a break from fostering kids and my husband resigned from being a youth pastor, I don’t have to be social. I can hole up at home and be a hermit. To some extent I have done that. We still go to church, but now that my husband isn’t working for a church we get to pick and choose what to be involved in instead of having it decided for us – which is great, except that I have to remember to actively look for things to do and ways to serve. It is far too easy to ignore social activities because I feel that I am not socially proficient. Sometimes I get kind of depressed seeing how easy it is for others to connect with people and make friends. I just don’t have that kind of personality.

Having Asperger’s Syndrome can make socializing uncomfortable and awkward, but I still want to make a difference in people’s lives. I want to care about others and have them care in return. The only way I can do that is to make myself reach out more. So this year I hope to reach out more to others, whether it be by saying a simple “hello” and learning someone’s name or by making myself go out a little more often, even when it is easier to stay home and veg out on the couch.

3. Stop letting people hurt me. In the past few years there have been a few people who hurt me deeply. They may not even realize they hurt me (in fact some of them think I deserve to be treated badly and have said so). In most cases, they were people who never really got to know me and then misinterpreted things I said or did. Instead of approaching me and clarifying what upset them, they either shut me out entirely or told other people a lot of bad stuff about me which isn’t actually true. By the time I knew there was really an issue, damage had already been done. I tried to work things out with some of them and find out what I did to upset them, but I was either ignored or told everything was my fault.

Maybe my lack of social skills in some areas caused the problems…or maybe they never really liked me to begin with. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve allowed these people to make me feel bad about myself and wonder if I am unlikable. It really dealt a blow to my self-esteem in some ways. At this point, I want to build my ability to trust others again. I want to not let a little meanness or misunderstanding hold me back anymore. I have already chosen to consciously forgive, now I want to let myself learn from any mistakes that were made and move on.

So there you have it, my list of intentions for the coming year. What would you like to change or work on this year?