I sometimes wonder why it took me so long to realize that I am autistic. Especially once PanKwake was diagnosed. Growing up, I always knew I was different, at least from the moment that I went to school.
My early years were unusual, but perfect – at least for me. I lived with my great-grandmother in a neighborhood with almost no children. Yet, I never felt lonely. I had wonderful friends; they just happened to be sixty to eighty years old.
I picked crab apples, stringed beans, and canned with Missus McCall. She told me the horrifying story of how her young son (two or three) was killed when a firecracker blew up in his hand.
I learned to crochet from Mama Tattley. She drank her tea hot with lemon, something that was highly unusual in the South where iced tea was the norm. And she hoarded; there was a room piled high with old newspapers and yarn. I remember crawling across a three-foot-high stack of papers to get something for her once.
Of course, Aunt Mildred was the best. She made the loveliest dresses for my Barbies from her scraps.
I felt loved, accepted, listened to, and valued.
Then they sent me to school and my self-confidence shattered. For one thing, we were poor. That is never easy, but especially when other children judge you for the material things you don’t have and the clothes you wear.
The other major obstacle was my dyslexia – though it was not called that then. I was simply ‘slow.’ It was frustrating. Reading was the only measure of intelligence they seemed to care about. And my self-esteem deteriorated.
Yet, each summer, I escaped into the world of my adult friends where I could carry on conversations about life, politics, and learn new real-world skills like gardening, sewing, and canning.
Or I could play with my Barbies, dressing them and creating whole worlds that paralleled the one I knew. I could even sit for what seems to me now like hours sifting inch by inch through the grass in search of the elusive four-leaf clover.
I was happy.
Then it was back to school and bullying.
When I was ten, the school assigned me a student-teacher to work with me one-on-one with my reading. I have never been able to master phonics; I cannot hear the sounds like others do. That is why even to this day I have trouble learning another language. But this young woman taught me sight-words.
In the space of six months, I went from the ‘slow’ group to the ‘gifted’ one. You see I was never dumb or ‘slow.’ I simply could not read. But in a world where that was the only thing that mattered, it was enough for everyone to assume that I was.
But something more important was happening. Learning to read was like opening the door to a magical kingdom for me. With a book, I could go anywhere, far from Drayton, South Carolina. I could do anything, be a doctor, an astronaut, or even President – at least for the length of that book. I could be anyone; no matter how famous. I could even time travel into the Wild West, or Tudor England, or the future. I could become a ‘curious little monkey’ even. Or a wild Irish she-pirate.
With a book, I did not need friends. Honestly, I still don’t. Until Alan, book boyfriends were better than real ones. Curling up in the chair with my Kindle is still my favorite activity (at least for this PG-rated blog). Reading energizes me as watching television or spending time with people never have.
Of course, if I thought elementary school was confusing and horrific, I had no idea how bad it could be. Junior high and high school were a nightmare that I would rather just forget. And mostly have.
I might have overcome my reading challenges and be in the honors classes, but I was still poor, I still wore unfashionable and often hand me down clothes. But more importantly, I just could not understand the complicated and often contradictory social rules that governed the hierarchy. And trust me, I tried.
The problem for me – as it can be for other autistic people – is…
Following rules that don’t make sense or are not fair and just.
Things like fashion, makeup, the cars we drive, the schools we went to, how much money we have are not how I want to be judged or how I judge others. And make no mistake about it, we all judge one another. Whether it is school, churches, or posh neighborhoods like the one we live in now, those arbitrary and inconsequential things seem to matter more than truly substantial ones like truth, justice, fairness, and morality.
For me, though, I judge people on two things: kindness and intelligence. Of which kindness is the higher priority. I can tolerate a dumb but kind person. I cannot an intelligent mean one. For me, that is a cardinal sin. If you are intelligent, then you should know better than to be mean to others. Unfortunately, too many don’t.
Since the day, I stepped into that Miss Lanier’s first-grade classroom at Euston Elementary, I have never felt that I belonged in this world. I was different. And while I have gravitated to other ‘weird’ people like me, it has never been easy.
Even when I managed to learn the rules and at least try to fit-in, it has never worked for long. And honestly, I still cannot figure out why. Why doing the things that other people do never works for me. I have always been different. Now I wear that like a badge of honor. I fly my Crazzy flag at full mast and dare the world to kiss my a$$.
It still is not easy. Within the walls of our @HomeCrazzyHome, I have the ability to make the rules, to create a safe space for everyone regardless of age, social status, race, sex, gender, or neurostatus. A world where children are little humans with as much right to be heard and respected as big ones. A place where my transwoman friend can be herself. And especially a place where the neurodivergent can be respected. Even a place where reading is not the only measure of intelligence.
Then, I go out THERE. The ‘real’ world. And I wonder WFT? It is unjust. Ruled by hubris and greed. A society that devalues people and our planet. Just a quick glance at what passes for news and it seems the whole thing has hit the self-destruct button.
And sometimes as it has this weekend, that invades my @HomeCrazzyHome. And I feel violated, helpless, and insecure. My autism needs structure, security, a safe space with sane rules. When that is threatened by the chaos out there, well, I suppose morose things like this blog are the result.
I wish I could say that things will get better. But I am not sure that they will. At least not out there. But I do believe that enough of us build those safe spaces for ourselves and others then we do have the capacity to sustain ourselves and others. We may not be able to defeat the evil forces of darkness at work in the world.
But we can create islands of sanity and hope to which we and others can escape. Like Dr. X’s school. A safe place for those who are different. And every now and then when the shit hits the fan, we can swoop out of it and save the world. Isn’t that victory? Or that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. For now anyway.