Life with Aspergers isn’t as devastating or limiting as some people think. It’s possible for Aspies to go to college, find successful careers, and even date and raise children. However, before you can get that far, you might have to overcome a rough beginning, for reasons such as…
Look, when it come to talking about the childhood of an autistic person, this is the elephant in the room. Through all of my time as a student in grade school, I was placed in Special Ed. As adults, we accept each others’ differences for the most part. Nonetheless, compassion and open-mindedness are traits that must be acquired. Autism aside, there is a misconception in grade school that all “special” kids like to make Impressionist art with their own feces and are too soft in the head to learn any letter in the alphabet beyond “C.” Here’s the general rule regarding the “special little snowflakes” in elementary school: never let those little buggers anywhere near you, because they are semi-human and probably carrying a rare mutant alien bacteria not commonly mentioned outside of dystopian B-movies. This sounds funny to the average twelve-year-old, but it’s heartbreaking if you’re on the wrong side of the bullying. It’s not just the broad category of “special needs” that earned me my badge of mockery. If I had a dollar for every time someone called me “retarded,” “stupid,” or “an annoying brat,” I wouldn’t even need an education, because I’d have my own five-story manor in Princeton. At one time, there was a boy in my neighborhood who called me “Burger Lady.” This all came not just from classmates at school, but also from family members and from people on the internet. When I was eleven years old, I attended summer camp with a girl who was not only verbally aggressive, but physically as well. Almost every week, she would hit me. What people don’t realize is that, while people with autism are generally more introverted, autism doesn’t shut down the human need for interaction. We are social animals, and there are few things more painful than being ostracized. Bullying can have long-lasting consequences as well. In my case, I left public school after the eighth grade for private school. I’ll never forget the terror and loneliness of walking into a new classroom while surrounded by people that I wanted to chat with, but was afraid to. I wanted to make friends. It was never my desire to live in isolation, but I isolated myself from the other students, convinced that the whole world was my enemy. Every time I tried to open my heart to someone, it would get broken. My reasoning through high school was that avoiding others left me with an empty heart, but an empty heart still didn’t hurt as much as a broken one. Sure, I had my friends; nonetheless, I refused to fully trust anyone.
Why it gets better: As children mature, most of them grow out of the bully stage. As for the victims, it’s possible for some of that damage to heal. The teachers I had in private school actually encouraged me to harness my talents and recover from the past. After graduating, I enrolled in a transition program, where a great teacher encouraged me to adopt a more optimistic view of life. It didn’t happen overnight. It took me time to learn to relax my cynical attitude, but life is much more fun when you don’t view the human race as your adversary.
3. Everyone thinks that you’re a “bad kid.”
This right here is the snag of many an autistic child. The worst thing a parent or teacher can do to a child with Aspergers is to convince said child that he is bad. It’s too easy to see a child throwing a tantrum and assume that he’s an obnoxious brat, when he might just be overwhelmed. Am I saying that you shouldn’t discipline your kids? Hell, no. I’m just saying that there’s a right way to do it. If your child throws a tantrum, wait for him to calm down, them tell him how pointless it was. It’s no use yelling at a child to get control of himself. When I was a child, people constantly yelled at me for being “naughty,” “immature,” and “mischievous.” This bruised my young heart. I wanted so badly to be a good kid. I just didn’t know how to be good. All I knew was that I was bad, and I didn’t wish to be bad. The way to approach a “bad” autistic child is to teach him how to properly behave, in lieu of screaming at him and saying that he’s a brat. The former is constructive; the latter is destructive, and only serves to damage the self-esteem of a child.
Why it gets better: Sooner or later, you’ll learn how to be “good.” Trust me.
2. Autism is concurrent.
There are very few people who are just autistic, with no other psychiatric diagnoses. Nine times out of ten, autism co-exists with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Attention Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, or anxiety disorders. I have a friend who has Asperger’s and schizophrenia. The bane of my existence, the big D, came about when I was thirteen. I frequently found myself unhappy and crying for no apparent reason. My sleep patterns became out of whack. At night, I would hide in the bathroom and read any number of books that I kept stashed under the sink. During the day, it took serious effort for me not to randomly fall asleep. The things that once interested me now only earned apathetic shrugs, and on a bad day, I had no problem with running a sharp object across my skin. My will to live slowly faded until I began to dream of suicide. My parents, noticing that I was not myself, took me to a psychiatrist, where I was diagnosed with depression and given medication.
Why it gets better: No matter what you have along with autism, there is likely a therapist and/or pill that can suppress its symptoms. I’m happy to report that today, I am depression-free. Oh, about the medication thing…
1. Side effects of medication.
I lucked out in this compartment, because some medications cause potentially fatal side effects. Along with antidepressants, I was given medication to help me sleep, but it also caused me to gain weight. The mirror became my worst nemesis, and walking up the stairs at school was enough to leave me out of breath. Being the hypochondriac that I am, I resorted to eating healthier snacks and exercising, which took care of that problem; nonetheless, some of my friends with autism still have weight problems due to the medication that they take. (Eventually, I was taken off of the problem pill.) Yet that’s not even the scary part. Here is a list of side effects of Prozac: http://www.rxlist.com/prozac-side-effects-drug-center.htm
Zoloft is similar, but has a few different side effects: http://www.rxlist.com/zoloft-side-effects-drug-center.htm
And now here’s Adderall, which is commonly presscribed for ADHD: http://www.rxlist.com/adderall-side-effects-drug-center.htm
Blurred vision? Hair loss? Irregular heartbeat? Holy shit!
Why it gets better: Weight loss is daunting and difficult, but not impossible. Also, if your medicine is giving you serious side effects, for God’s sake, talk to your doctor.
Remember: nobody is hopeless. Any person can succeed, if given the chance.