Living life on the spectrum

Tiffany Cavanaugh, Reporting Staff

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Imagine if you were in a foreign country where no one speaks the same language as you and the culture is completely different. Even your own clothing seems awkward and tingling. The food is cooked terribly; it looks entirely different from what you’ve been used to. You feel disgusted. You don’t understand the language spoken; there’s communication of words that you have never heard in your existence. You look around because you’re curious. It is fully new to you. Because the language is foreign, you do not know when to start talking, since you are so confused. But then again, when do you stop talking? You never know how people truly feel, including yourself, the one person you’ve known since birth. This all happens at once, the moment that you are reading this, so you start to panic. The culture then starts to change its routine, so anxiety increases. You then run to escape from the nonsense. Tears streaming, head spinning, body shaking. Welcome to my world.

How would it feel to be trapped in a bubble for so long, but it just would not burst? That’s what Autism feels like. Autism is a developmental disorder that affects behavior, communication, and social interaction. There are many different cases that range from mild to severe and require different levels of care.  According to the Autism Society in 2000, 1 in 150 people had the condition. Now, that number is 1 in 68. The number is increasing and there is no known cause. When people first hear someone is Autistic, they might immediately assume the person is dumb.  However, Autistic people can be some of the smartest people out there. Famous people like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Temple Grandin, Tim Burton, James Durbin, 50 Tyson, and Susan Boyle all have a form of Autism.

Although people with Autism struggle socially, many, including myself, still lead highly functioning lives. Life for me is so overwhelming and often frustrating. I wake up everyday and face life in a way that few other humans face. I face total confusion in people, and ask why people act the way they do. I can get angry and upset extremely easily. Sometimes I don’t even know what I say. I see the world in a different way and have since I was a child. I remember one day when my preschool teacher called my mom. I was in the bathroom about to wash my hands. The soap in the bathroom was always red soap; it changed to blue soap. I thought I could not wash my hands and I held the line. I was clearly upset.  It took forever for teachers to say that it is okay to wash my hands with different soap.

At the time, Autism was not as well-known and it was not as common. My family kept researching what was wrong with me, and thought it was not normal. I had limited speech and lacked eye contact. I was originally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, or as other people call it High Functioning Autism, when I was five years old. My mom noticed something wrong with me since I was two weeks old. I would cry constantly. If my routine changed, I would freak out. I hated going to public places and people bumping into me unexpectedly. My doctor said that I would have a second grade mentality, have no friends, and never talk normally.

I remember getting teased because I didn’t know how to do something in class. Students would say things sarcastically. Those with Autism are unable to recognize slang and jokes. Even though I couldn’t, and still can’t, recognize sarcasm, students laughed at me. When people say something sarcastic, I take it literally. Sometimes they would use sarcasm on purpose and then laugh at me, which was so hurtful.. Because of the anxiety caused by this, I used to be spinning in my own world all the time. Now, I don’t mean having anxiety made my head actually “spin.” I mean I went home to my living room and would spin in circles for hours. Literally. Thankfully I’ve outgrown that. Now, I just pace.

People with Autism see the world in a unique way. When I was younger, I used to be always obsessed with the computer. Disney Channel, at the time, was my favorite TV channel and also my favorite website. There was a website called Disney International which had all of the Disney sites from around the world. I was always very interested in that because it was very interesting to look at. There were are different types of people from all over the world. The time I spent on this site is probably why I never judge anybody by disability, religion, or sexual orientation. Another idea when I was young is that my mom had me pick out one Christmas ornament at the Hallmark Store. I wanted this one ornament that had all different children from around the world, holding hands. My mom found it quite odd when there were other options like Dora, The Cat in the Hat, and Charlie Brown, I wanted an ornament that no other toddler would want.

Middle school was a huge change for me. I got plenty of tours before starting so I would not feel stressed out. My parents told me about social tips to make friends. For example, how to start and continue a conversation, hugging friends, and how to act in certain situations. Eighth grade was very stressful, but the best year in middle school. I had begun to talk to more people.

Social media also had an important role in my life. I made my Facebook account on March 12, 2011 in seventh grade. When I started to post things, very few people liked or commented on my stuff. I never told anyone about my Asperger’s because I thought people would say weird things and bully me even more. In my 8th grade history class, my history teacher was teaching an introduction on Manifest Destiny and the expansion of moving westward. We were asked 3 questions. The 3rd question was something like, “Explain how you were put on this Earth and why you are here for a reason?” In my writing, I talked about the fact that I had Asperger’s. Then I found out that we had to present it to the whole class. I was very nervous, due to the fact only four of my friends knew and I told them to keep it a secret. I wanted to keep it a secret because I was afraid that people would laugh and make fun of me. Although, people knew that I was a little different than the rest of the kids, due to how I would react to things. The teacher asked for volunteers to go and present first. Five kids already went. I then raised my hand very shyly, unsure of myself. I did not want to regret this moment. My history teacher asked me if I wanted to go. I didn’t say anything. My mind was ticking. I was quiet. Everyone was staring at me waiting for an answer. I put my head down. A girl in my class said, “it’s okay.”I thought about it for a moment and then I realized that one of my best friends, Alma, was in my class and knew about me. I knew she wouldn’t judge. So then I picked my head up and said something similar to this:

“Well I’m not sure if you know this but I have Asperger’s. I believe I was put on this            Earth for a reason. And I think without it, I don’t know where I’ll be because I was born to be different.

Over the years people such as family, friends and teachers helped me to become who I am today and I do not know what I will do without them. I am happy and grateful for who I am.”

The class clapped without even prompting from the teacher. Even some students started crying! I did not expect this to happen! It was one of the best moments of my life. That night, the teacher even emailed my mom. She was thrilled! Ever since then, I was not ashamed of having Asperger’s.

About a week later, I decided that it was time for everyone to know. I posted a long paragraph about it on Facebook. It said:

“Heyy everyone:). I am not sure if you all know this but I have Aspergers. It’s a form of Autism. It’s a brain disorder. I feel like I was put on this earth for a reason. I know I was worse when I was younger. I believe over the years my supportive old and new friends, family, and everyone else who has help me in life encouraged me to be successful in my life. I just wanted everyone to know that in case if you noticed anything weird…well if you did. If you have any questions comment below. Some days will be okay but no matter what life goes on and I’m happy I’m different and what I have doesn’t stop me from anything. I am very grateful to have still my old friends and my new friends I met this year that all give me advice and support me. I love my life and happy to be who I am”

This post got over 100 likes and 50 comments. I thought people would make fun of me, but it turns out that many people supported me, people who I thought never did.

My Freshman year, I was mainly talking to the same friends who I always talked to, but my Sophomore year was the year that changed my life. I have met two friends who also have Asperger’s. They then showed me more friends to keep in contact.

My Junior year was the year that I have became more involved such as Yearbook Club, and Zumba Club and I was inducted in National Honors Society. So far in my Senior Year, I started becoming part of the Student Government. I was also nominated and voted into the High School Council by my wonderful classmates in all four grades. I participated in the Lion’s Club Speech contest on November 19th, 2015. Clearly, I am getting more involved.

Everyone thought that I would not be able to talk normally and be stuck in a corner my whole life without a traditional education. Social media has helped me to express my feelings more. Without social media, I would not have as many friends as I have now, if not any. I still don’t understand sarcasm and take things by its literally meaning, I still have some form of repetitive behaviors, and still may not understand social cues, but having Asperger’s just makes me a stronger person on the inside and the outside. Some people still make fun of me at times. It upsets me, but that doesn’t stop me from moving forward.

If I rock back and forth, talk out loud, or do weird movements with my hands, don’t be afraid of me. It is just something that I can’t control. Worst of all, you never know when it’s going to happen, ever. Hopefully someday I can make a Blog and a Vlog about how I can help people. Disabilities do not define you, it is just part of a person’s unique self. Because of social media and being around amazing people, I will never be in that corner.