“They” – my post for Autistics Speaking Day
At age four, they praised my ability to read. “She must be a genius!” they said of my hyperlexia. Little did they know that I had taught myself to read and had actually begun to do so a year prior.
At age five, they knitted their brows together in concern that I had no interest in playing with the other kindergartners when I chose to read those books instead of playing schoolyard games.
They praised my innate ability to spell, but failed me when I couldn’t tell them why a word was pronounced in a certain way. I knew, it just was.
When my third grade math teacher refused to teach in a way that strayed from the book, I failed. And suddenly, my inability to grasp mathematical concepts was my fault, while my peers who struggled in reading were offered extra help and explanations without question. It just wasn’t fair.
When I was eleven, I won the district spelling bee.
When I was twelve, they deemed me a “social problem with attention problems”, a disorganized girl who couldn’t turn her completed homework in, or even remember where she had put it. Executive dysfunction was practically my middle name.
Academically, I could have graduated high school in three years. I did try. But they deemed me socially immature, and adhered to some sort of arbitrary rule about needing to have attended the senior retreat with the rest of the graduating class, an activity that still induces panic attacks as I consider the “team building” activities that did nothing but make me feel like I was spinning out of control.
College was a haven. Oh, executive dysfunction still plagued me, and without an official diagnosis beyond ADHD, I was limited for disability resources. But small classes, individualized attention, tutoring, and being able to type rather than write – I was in heaven.
The only thing was – I was the weird one. I didn’t go to the social events. I had to take my exams in the library. My roommate once witnessed me chucking my laptop halfway across the room in the midst of a meltdown. I was 22.
The world tells me I should be ashamed of this, of not being normal. I should aspire to stop being like that. I should stop flapping my hands when I’m excited or happy. That I should stop wringing my hands or biting my fingernails when I’m nervous or upset. That I should make eye contact for other people’s comfort, so they don’t liken me to a serial killer, even when it takes so much energy to make eye contact that I often lose track of what they’re saying. They tell me to be quiet about my obsessions, even while they praise neurotypical fans for their enthusiasm. They tell me to “chill out” when I tell them how difficult it is for me to not melt down inside of a Walmart – even at midnight.
But I will not. I will not stop being who I am for someone else’s comfort. I will not shut up. I will not stop being me, and I will not pretend to be normal to fit in.