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A Late Bloomer

Posted September 9th, 2014 at 3:41 PM by Corvus of the Black Night

(reposted from a blog submission, if for some reason it is rejected)

My name is Rachel, and I have autism.

My story is somewhat unique. It involves people with their heart in the right place but with perhaps the less-than-wiser decisions, unique viewpoints and a unique, yet flawed upbringing.

I was born 21 years ago to a well off family with a sort of blunt perspective in life. Growing up, I was told to be strong and fight for what I thought was right. My mother constantly reminded me that I was descended from a Scottish Clan notorious for their Robin Hood-like ways. Not only this, but she constantly questioned the ways of the local school district due to their laziness and lack of ability to help educate truly unique individuals, such as myself and other people with Aspergers or Autism.

My families values would turn out to cause problems that are perhaps unique in my case and those with families with similar values, but also give me some benefits that help permit my independence. For this reason I hold somewhat unique opinions on how autism should be handled.

When I was about 5 years old, I was, through the school, diagnosed several times over with PDD-DOS, Autism or Aspergers, depending on the round of questions given. While I vaguely remember the testing, my parents boldly exclaimed that they would not believe for a second that their child was "stupid". To say the least, they had a very skewed view of what autism really was - they believed it to be a conspiracy to pop pills in kids like ADHD (unfortunately not realizing that such a treatment would not be an option in most cases of autism). Sadly, this is the result of the stigmatization of autism through the media, and, at that time, accessible information on what autism really was was not as available as it is now. As such, my parents repeatedly took me to psychologists on their own dollar to prove that I was "not stupid". Eventually, a general psychologist declared that I was simply musically and intellectually gifted.
As I was growing up, I was repeatedly told of how "I beat the odds" and how I "defeated challenge after challenge to my intelligence". I realize now that such things were only my parents trying to prove that I was "not stupid". While this may seem like a discriminatory gesture, it was a gesture in good faith - they were simply trying to prevent me from being held back intellectually. They simply did not realize at the time that people can have varying intelligence in various areas, I believe.

As time went on, social pressures began to press further. Not only this, but the school particularly did not take well to my nor my twin sister's shenanigans while growing up - not to mention that at this time my sister was particularly abusive to me. I didn't realize what was going on at the time, but my parents and my school district were locked in a fierce stalemate regarding how to treat me. I was told that I had to be my best, lest they place me in what I was told was a terminal sentence - "Special Education".

I realized that I was always different, and I embraced my differences. Somehow, I realized that those spewing insults at me were nothing to be worried about, perhaps due to the stories I was told about my past achievements. I accomplished many creative endeavours as a child - I competed nationally in guitar competitions and won, I created literally hundreds of characters for a video game, I created structures for said video games, created dozens of musical compositions in midi software - I was a creative machine. In addition, I was very intellectually gifted - reading college introductory textbooks as young as 9 years old. My fight, to me, was against being held back. And to this day, my fight remains this.

But things got more vicious as the stalemate continued. I did things that I didn't understand were wrong. I said things that I didn't understand was wrong. And perhaps it was because my mother fought in the past with the school district to enact safety procedures and to reject a special education plan for me, that they took it out on me. Every few months it was something new, oftentimes an imitation of what others were doing. I didn't know why it was wrong, but I did know that I was continually being targeted by staff. It wasn't until my high school years that I would begin to delve back into the autism mindset.

In high school, I finally diverged from being a loner - I made friends with people who happened to have Aspergers or autism. It was weird. I never realized that they had any sort of condition, but I was told by their parents by how much of an impact I made on their lives by just being a friend. To be honest, to me, they weren't a kid with a disability, they were just someone I could play Pokemon with, one of my prominent obsessions. But as I began to learn the truth about these students, I realized that something was odd about them that didn't apply to others. They were all autistic. And they all shared traits in common with me.

At first I regurgitated the false impressions my parents had regarding the disorder. As I grew older though and gained access to the internet, I realized that these were quite wrong. Dead wrong. Autism couldn't be "cured" with pills. Autistic people weren't "stupid". Autistic people were just... different.

A few years later, I was in college. I met an interesting character, Karl. Karl was someone who really liked video games, and thus I thought he was my best friend ever (as I would later learn, this was not really the definition of a "good friend"). Over time, I began to question myself - did I have a problem underneath? I felt myself unable to adjust, and the pride that I rode on for years was wearing thin. I realized that my toe walking was unusual, and I searched it online - autism. It took me quite literally 5 different searches to find pages unrelated to it. I attributed it to a short Achilles tendon, until told that it can be shortened from this practice. I began to investigate, afraid, again, due to stigma. It was then when I learned that even Karl had Aspergers.

So I gathered my strength and discovered none other than his mother. She... was an interesting fellow, to say the least. Extremely aggressive, with a stare that could look through your soul. She was not someone you wanted to make upset, not because she would demolish your beliefs, but because quite literally she was a bull in a china shop.

She hopped right onto the autism train as soon as I inquired her about it! She appeared, at first, to be a good resource, I adopted her in my head as a mentor on the subject, along with Karl. But she grew increasingly more aggressive and demeaning. She encouraged me to fight against my parents for the "lies" they told me, and they told me that they had horribly abused me for years. I started to believe it.

In June, I was officially tested. The test, quite frankly, was not what I expected. I was extremely nervous and tried to both impress the doctor intellectually and creatively while trying to just get through the damn thing. My father did his portion two weeks later. The results came back in July as a positive diagnosis for autism.

At this point, something was strange about Karl's mother. I told her the results. She was shocked that I was diagnosed with autism and not Aspergers. I found this to be somewhat unusual - wasn't there only a small difference between the two? She insisted that the doctor was wrong and that I should fork over money to get tested again (my diagnosis was obtained at a university as part of a study). To be honest, the difference between autism and aspergers is so negligible that this would be a clear waste of investments. I brushed it off but her behaviour became more and more unbearable.

She insisted that I sign up for disability. Having a job at the time, I was surprised - why should I sign up for disability if I already have a job, and haven't even begun to start my career yet? It's not like I have blindness or anything, which would automatically cause discrimination at the workplace. I was convinced if I held an NT act for the interview process I'd be alright - and it turns out it has served me well.

She insisted that I take classes on how to get a job. Again, I was confused. My mother taught me how to do better in interviews, and I did research online - interviews are hard for anyone. I found it very peculiar that she would insist that I didn't know how to get or maintain a job despite the fact that I already had one.

She insisted that I take only one class a semester, and drop my classes, nonrefundable at that point, behind my parent's back, after I asked how to handle working with an online course. I found this to be morally objectionable, because my parents paid hundreds of dollars for these classes. She continually insisted that I would have trouble with handling three classes, despite the fact that I have handled that sort of classload in the past with no prior difficulty. She did not provide answers or advice - she only provided limitations.

At this time I met an extremely influential young man, who I hope turns around from his most recent depressions - a blind man named Kyle. We talked about how we were weird and how we didn't fit in, but something clicked with him and me, something that made me realize how wrong Karl's mother was, and how my parents were really trying to help, despite being misguided. He showed me that being different wasn't necessarily a bad thing, and a lot of the problems are tacked on other people - only YOU can define your own limitations. No disability, no preconceived notions, no nothing does that. Only YOU know what you are capable of.

The final straw was when I went to Karl's house one last time. I walked up to the door, expecting Karl, but received his mother instead. His mother had grown increasingly ferocious as time went on, and it was difficult to talk to her, due to her extreme aggression. Instead of sympathizing with my fear, she talked down to me. She grabbed my chin and forced me to look in her eyes. And she whispered, "you will never be more than your autism".

I cried that night. That really hurt. I defined my life through all the challenges that I accomplished, whether or not I was aware of the diagnosis of my shortcomings or not, I fought my whole life to become the person that I was today. And to be told that I would never do better, that was against who I was, down to the core.

It was wrong. I knew it was wrong. That blood from that Scottish Clan was boiling. And it was time for me to fight for what I thought was right.

I told her that she what she did was wrong.

I told her why what she did was wrong.

And I told her that I wanted to be treated with respect.

And she flew completely off the handle.

She couldn't handle being questioned. It became clear that her "help" was nothing but what could be considered months of verbal abuse. She put me down. She told me I couldn't do things. She told me I couldn't be who I wanted to be.

I determine who I am. Nobody else.

Our relationship crumbled. Karl proved to be as shallow as his mother, claiming that he had no interest in Kyle because he was blind and "couldn't play the same video games as him". Both were incredibly ignorant, both were completely moronic, both were completely delusional to reality. If there was only one wish I could have on their family, it was that Karl, one day, would eventually see through his mother, and finally work towards his independence. But in the last observed state, he was no more able to be independent than a 13 year old.

It is this when I finally emerged from my cocoon. I was no longer a child. I was an adult. And I was me.

My parents learned as time went on that autism wasn't a bad thing, and I definitely did have it. They learned that it is just a part of who I am, that it isn't "being stupid" or anything like that. They learned that despite their fears of being diagnosed and falling into the abyss like Karl had that I was quite independent. I owe my upbringing to that. It was not perfect, it never was and never should be viewed as that. But they are good people. They made mistakes and repented their sins. During this phase with Karl and his mom, I often felt like they were evil because they didn't buy into it. They were misguided, but they protected me from things. They taught me how to be independent. They knew I was literal, they knew I was a bit concrete, they knew this, they just didn't want to call it autism. They taught me and gave me the bravery to speak for myself.

I have proven to become successful, despite my flaws. I currently earn more than twice as much as Karl's whole household earns, even though I'm 3 years younger than Karl himself. I carved out my niche. I made a difference. I am not autism, I am Rachel, and I am me.
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  1. Old Comment
    Tek's Avatar
    He showed me that being different wasn't necessarily a bad thing, and a lot of the problems are tacked on other people - only YOU can define your own limitations. No disability, no preconceived notions, no nothing does that. Only YOU know what you are capable of.

    The final straw was when I went to Karl's house one last time. I walked up to the door, expecting Karl, but received his mother instead... She grabbed my chin and forced me to look in her eyes. And she whispered, "you will never be more than your autism".
    I choked up at this. Yours is an amazing story. It's inspiring to see how you've overcome.
    Posted December 14th, 2014 at 7:58 AM by Tek Tek is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Corvus of the Black Night's Avatar
    Wow, thanks. I don't think too much about this anymore. I guess I've put my personal problems regarding this behind me and have to face other things. I realized that it doesn't matter what name or what label you have at the end of the day, you're still who you are, so ultimately feeling shame doesn't really do anything but hurt yourself.
    Posted December 14th, 2014 at 9:43 AM by Corvus of the Black Night Corvus of the Black Night is offline