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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Asperger's Growing Up

                           Asperger's Growing Up

The Ruby Horse- oil painting by Stephanie Tihanyi (copyright held by artist)
In my impatience to be born, lol, I arrived two months too early and weighed only 1lb 8 ounces, covered all over in ‘lango’ a fine hair, ‘less than a bag of sugar and looking like a spider monkey’, remarked my mother, cupping her hands together.

Immediately following the birth, I was rushed to another hospital miles away, to an incubator, to assist breathing, because there was not one in my home town.This must of stressed my mother because she already had my 10 month old sister to look after and at that time my parents were very struggling finacially.

At 2, I was hospitalized briefly for an eye operation, but because I raised pure screaming hell on the kids ward they sent me home early. At 5, I absolutely refused to enter my first school, because it looked too much like a hospital. As far as I was concerned, hospital is where they abandon you.and I was not going in there. Eventually with my mothers coaxing I relented and actually enjoyed it.

Nothing else noteworthy stood out from my very early childhood behavior (pre-school) and I remember it as quite peaceful and pleasant, except I did spook my mother out with occasional odd qwirks.. She thought I saw ghosts and it gave her goosebumps because she said I would stare intently at the wall, cupboard, door or window and make smiling and waving gestures, as if someone was there, I, of course I don’t remember a thing. 
Something that was significant in indicating AS, was that I remember my mother noting, that instead of crying, whining, acting shamed or protesting like other siblings or cousins, when being angrily reprimanded by either parents, is that I would become fixed and immobile. I would stand and stare blankly or inquiringly at the reprimanding parent, as if to say, ‘what are you talking about?, are you talking to me?, what is it that is going on?. My mother said I seemed genuinely confused as to the interactions taking place. 
A hallmark of children with Aspergers is that they do not ‘read'  (’)  faces and can’t tell when someone is becoming annoyed or angry, although they are able to recognise extremes of emotion, such as very happy/angry/sad.
 Later on, this disability of mine, would lead me into big trouble. Because neurotypically brained people, assume all others react uniformly and they have a lack of imagination that there maybe differing cognitive styles. My odd reactions were deemed as defiant and willful to my authoritarian father. It was  like a red flag to his bullish aggression. This, I believe lead me to be beaten by him the most severely, if not the only one, in later years. I simply failed to see the visual red flags and learn to shut up like my siblings. I remember my step mother saying "I don't believe you cant see your father getting angry, you know what he is like, I think you ask for it!'. To me those punishments were like a bolt out of the blue, with no warning signs. Getting hit was bad enough, never knowing when shit was going to happen made life and people seem very unpredicable.
 My first difficulties of Asperger’s syndrome, arose in early primary school. I had no problems prior, because I had my older sister as my one dear friend, but when we were separated in middle primary school, I begun to experience problems and anxiety, forming social relationships.
 I was very confused and fell into an absorbed sadness that I could not express. I could not understand why the other kids in the playground would not play with me. I felt afraid, hurt and rejected. I remember teachers taking me in hand and going over to groups of kids and gently trying to intercede on my behalf and get the other kids to let me join in their play. They still ran away. I really did not understand it. I was quite aware of and felt the teachers frustration but I had no way to express myself. They would say, “ why don’t they want to play with you?” and I would feel ashamed, it was like they was asking me if there was anything I had done wrong. After a while they did not ask. To avoid the feeling of shame or be viewed as bad in some way, I began to hide on the stairwells during recess and pretend to do homework or read a book. I looked forward to meeting my dear sister at the gate, so we could walk home together.
. It was the first time I came aware of being different from others and I did not like it. Once when my sister was away from school, due to sickness, I walked home alone. So absorbed was I, I walked straight into a lamppost, cutting my eyebrow, blinding my eye with blood. I was very fortunate, it did not go unseen. An Indian man ,a kind Hindu, was watching and took me home to his wife who cleaned my face and put a bandage on my head.
After the man walked me all the way home to my mother. My reputation of being a dreamer was first established, I was from then on,  an imaginative child with her head in the clouds, in a world of her own. No one concidered that I maybe mildly autistic, in 1968 only boys not girls had aspergers. I was artistic, I held onto that, it gave me a positive identity.
I knew the other kids were not really bad. I also knew I was not doing anything bad that I could perceive, yet I could not understand this mystery. The lack of understanding was painful. My need for an asnwer lead me to create a theory. Somehow I came to reason, it was my social neediness for others, that put others off, (others, meaning other children, (adults, I had no problems with)). In an attempt to understand and control the situation, I figured, this is what made people withdraw. At last! I had an answer that gave me a sense of meaning and understanding. If I did not show to much social neediness, no matter how lonely I felt, I would not get rejected and no one would be at fault. If I showed I had a need or yearning for friends I risked being despised by them. Such childhood experiences such as these, are very emotionaly painful among those of us with aspergers and its not unusual for us tho carry these types of emotional defenses into our adulthood, as Lynne Soraya, writing on Asperger's Diary explains here, they can color our lifelong relationships with people.

My tendency to take statements made by others literally first became apparent to others around the age 10. My primary school english teacher prepared an imaginative writing project for the class. He placed a red ink splattered shirt by the open class room window with a compass, a crowbar and a box of candy. It was very dramatic to say the least. For our project we were to write a story about how these things might got there. Somehow I didn’t get it. I remember one child dramatically suggesting ‘a murder’ and the teacher said 'good idea’. Well, that was it. Done deal. I went home and told my mother there had been a murder at the school, I told her I was extra scared because I was worried the murderer may return. She rang the school all  alarmed and the next day the teacher took me aside and told me it was just make-believe. Back then of course autism was not ever looked at in girls. I was just an ‘imaginative’ child. That became the reason for anything that was different about me. But how could I be so imaginative in my drawing, yet lack the social imagination of what others was thinking? Theory of mind. Here is a great little You Tube vid explaning it.

 Nobody knew it was more than vivid imagination that also caused my difficulties in understanding common words and phrases others used like, ‘hardships’, ‘clothes lines’, ‘at the end of the day’. Such phrased were confusing to me and I got ribbed at quite a bit, even when it was explained again and again, I just couldn’t get it. Your hard-ships?,Are not all ships hard? Is that opposed to ‘Soft’-ships which would sink, right? that’s not logical, Duh? Mother was putting washing on a ‘clothes’-lion?. What does that mean?, ‘a clothes lion? a lion made of clothes?...or a lion wearing clothes...???’. I often got told ‘you’re so daft sometimes’ or ‘you’re just messing me around, acting like you don’t understand. The good news is a keen memory for words and puns can be developed over the years and into adulthood, and put to creative use in a visual way, comic strip conversations, and other concrete, or unusual visual art approaches. I belive that not being able to express myself verbally, coupled with high sensitivity, lead me to being an artist.