Life With Asperger’s: Learning As I Go
I’m scrunched up under a desk. My 3rdgrade teacher, Mrs. Alexander, implores me to come out and participate. I reply with grunts. All I want is my Game Boy Advance.
That was me throughout elementary school—an unfiltered troublemaker who lacked the skills to assimilate into his surroundings.
All thanks to something called Asperger’s. It’s the form of high functioning autism I was diagnosed with when I was only nine years old. Although Asperger’s affects people differently, it usually inhibits social communication and interaction. Those with Asperger’s rely on routines and have specific interests.
About one in 250 people fit the Asperger’s profile. It is an autism spectrum disorder. About one in 68 children have been identified with ASD.
I like to describe it as anxiety with the inability to interact normally with others.
My parents, Gina and Scott Hitt, were integral in my development and pushed me to try and overcome my deficits. They described me as a more impulsive boy, obsessed with his own interests. It was so difficult for me to make eye contact that I couldn’t even look at the camera for photos.
Dad told me the hardest part about being my parent was watching me struggle. But my parents didn’t cut me any slack. They knew the rest of the world wouldn’t do that when I grew up.
I spoke with Dr. Jennifer Elder at the University of Florida’s College of Nursing about my experiences. She began her work in the realm of autism dating back to the 1980s. Her research was focused on early intervention.
She said early involvement in children with autism spectrum disorder plays a significant role in their development as was the case for me. The deficits will never fully go away, but my parents do agree they are less pronounced now. My dad chalked it up to maturity and a better understanding of how society works.
I like to think I am blessed to be able to recognize where I struggle. I rely on my friends and family to be open with me for me to correct myself and function in social settings. My dad told me my biggest challenge is my decision-making skills. I disagree. In my opinion, it’s my anxiety. It influences everything in my mind these days. That, of course, includes decision-making.
I call my mom every time I grocery shop because of a fear that I am spending too much money on something or not taking advantage of a deal on something I don’t need.
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In high school, I shut down taking tests if I felt unprepared and didn’t know about anything on the paper. I doodled on the tests and wrote apologies to my teacher for being a failure.
Anxiety and the logical side of my mind affect each other. And I can see that. The two work in a deadly combination that can result in anxiety attacks for me.
I’ll start with a thought; my analytical side picks at it and causes rabbit holes of other thoughts. I tend to refer to this process as “spiraling.”
This is one of the ways I rely on my friends. They are my safety net. I call on them whenever I need it and the friends I’ve spoken to have no problem helping me out in this capacity. It is because of my support group that I’ve been able to live with this disability. Elder agreed. She said a support group is the most important thing someone with autism spectrum disorder can have.
I have made great strides in my life. Something clicked in my head around eighth grade that put me on the path to where I am today. It came when I was written up because I printed out obscene song lyrics and read them aloud in the middle school cafeteria.
I told myself, “No more getting in trouble,” that day as I sat in Principal Whidden’s office.
But, I am not without my struggles. There are days where I don’t have a single anxious thought and, days when the anxiety is so great that I don’t even know how to function as a human being anymore.
Even the writing of this essay brought on anxiety. The amount of time spent on myself as a subject almost made me feel self-centered. But, I went through my usual coping mechanisms to quell my fears.
I’ll listen to music to cope. The sounds of De La Soul and Chris Stapleton in that beat-up pair of headphones brings me comfort. I’m in my own little box with them on.
Another way is just talking to my friends about my anxiety. I do it just to get the thoughts out of my head, so they don’t swirl around there all day. My own experience has shown me that people diagnosed with some kind of mental or social disability can get better. Their quality of life can improve. But, it is not without work. I make it a point to register the different areas I struggle in and take the time to improve.
I ask questions to make sure what I do is correct. I may not know what to do instinctively, but the information I have helps me come to the right conclusion at some point.
I will never truly live what is perceived as a “normal” life because of my disability. However, I would not want it any other way. Normal is just a setting on a machine.
Asperger/Autism Network https://www.aane.org/prevalence/
This article was featured in Issue 88 – Knowledge is Power