Growing up without knowing you are autistic

The unknown Aspie

Before I come to anything negative, let me say I had fun. Some of it was fun with other children and some of it was fun on my own. Climbing trees when I was supposed to be walking the dog was fun, and dogs are easy to see from a tree. A tree is not just there, trees are asking to be climbed.

A tree asking to be climbed

But I also got bullied. People who are different get picked out for violent behaviour, but I would come home only to be told off by my mother for having a dirty school uniform. When told of the bullying she told me not to retaliate and to count to ten, they were only hitting me because I lost my temper, she would say. I learned that if you do nothing the bullying gets worse, bullies like to hurt people if they think they will get away it, if they believe the victim will do nothing. I don’t know how effective counting to ten would be, I was always hit before I got to eight.

But there were friendships too, a small number, I remember sitting with a friend Christopher, reading from his collection of American comics. Good times.

I never knew there was anything different about me, I’d get comments about being a daydreamer or being in a world of my own. A teacher noticed and sent me to a psychologist, we had moved to a new house and so I went to a new school, I was not fitting in, but a diagnosis for Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism was not available in 1964, so I did not get one. Rather than make me realise I was somehow different I took this to mean I was the same as everyone else.

Because I believed I was the same as everybody I believed everybody had it as hard as I did and didn’t say anything, so I didn’t say anything either. Now I know differently, and I am pleased that life for everyone is not as hard as I thought it was.

But other than being thought of a weird or a loner, I missed the stereotyping that comes these days with being known as autistic. Which is good. Stereotyping is never a good thing, but By the time Rain Man was released in 1988, I was already married with three children. Rain man is the best thing and the worst thing that happened for autism, putting it on the map, most people had never heard of autism in ’88 and simultaneously giving the impression that autistic people are like Raymond in the film, which the vast majority are not.

Having grown up at a time when there was no awareness or diagnosis for Asperger’s Syndrome meant there was no stereotyping, but also that to fit in with society I had to become an expert in masking, putting on a character in order to fit in with the expectations of others, I got quite good at it, except I have never got the hang of when to enter a conversation, nor when to leave. The problem with masking is it is tiring, you leave school, work or any social gathering exhausted. When exhausted the mask can slip and then a meltdown, thought to be a bad temper at the time, would happen. All things I tried to control my temper failed: Why would they work it wasn’t a temper tantrum. What I really needed was how to prevent an autistic meltdown, but I did not know I was autistic – that never happened.

So here I am all grown up with children that are all grown up. If I could have my time over again, with the choice of whether to be autistic or not, I’d choose the autism. Autism is such a large part of who I am that without it I wouldn’t be me. There have been a lot of difficulties, but good times as well. I’ll finish the blog how I started it, I have had fun.


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