Think back to your days in high school. Or maybe even middle school. Do you remember that one kid who wore strange clothes and made you feel uncomfortable when he or she trapped you in a conversation?
I remember several of those kids. I also remember them being made fun of for being “weird” or “creepy.” They never really had friends, people generally avoided them, and everyone knew who they were.
This week, I had a moment of realization about those kids.
They were awkward in conversation. They either didn’t make eye contact or they held eye contact too intensely. They were rarely athletic. They dressed oddly. They didn’t realize when they were hovering. They knew they didn’t fit in socially, but they couldn’t figure out why.
Those are all signs of autism.
Granted, some of those kids may have just been raised by parents who didn’t pressure them to fit into social constructs (sort of like awkward homeschooled kids), but I really think it was more than that. Even with years and years of trying to learn the scene, they still couldn’t get it.
Please keep in mind that I’m not talking about kids who were too shy to make friends, or kids who were a little awkward, or kids who wore black clothes and listened to punk music. Those kids grew up to find their niche in life. They figured themselves out and became productive members in society. In fact, I think most of THOSE kids were a little further ahead in majority than the snooty popular kids were.
The ones I’m talking about – who seemed to have been on the spectrum – were the EXCEPTIONALLY different kids.
My nephew is eight and on the spectrum. His nearly constant complaint is that he doesn’t have any friends.
My foster daughter’s biological brother is ten and on the spectrum. He has one friend at school.
In high school, I know a boy who was diagnosed with Asperger’s (which is a term that’s no longer used), and everyone thought he was so strange. He could play multiple instruments and was years ahead in science, but no one invited him to their birthday parties.
These stereotypes obviously point toward boys, but that’s probably because girls are better at disguising (or “masking”) their symptoms. If I think about the adult women I know who have autism now, they follow the same behavioral patterns, but with a little more fluidity. They’re the women in the office who don’t participate in office gossip, but are often the target of it. They’re the ones who eat lunch alone, but aren’t necessarily bothered by it.
There are more people in our world who are on the spectrum than most people ever realized, and if you look around, you’ll see them. Not to identify them for their “inabilities,” but to see them for their unique abilities.
Perhaps if I’d have known more about neuro-differences in high school, I’d have spent less time talking ABOUT the “weird” kids, and more time talking TO them.