Education. Education. Education.

 
My Asperger’s diagnosis has brought many issues to the fore, not least my pitiful state of education.

Despite my love affair with learning, I have only the barest formal qualifications. I try not to be bitter about the delay in my diagnosis and that I received no support at school, either educationally, or pastorally: it’s hard to study when the girl behind is flicking Tip-Ex in your hair (again) and the teacher is laughing (again) because she’s too incompetent to do anything else.

I escaped the savagery of school at fifteen, with the minimum qualifications. My parents were horrified, in a predictably middle-class way, and packed me off to sixth-form college threatening withdrawal of all my human rights. Having had enough of being pushed around, I left home.

I stayed on at college though, and did manage to gain an A-level. You see, I still loved learning, it was just life I couldn’t cope with.

I lasted 13-months in the workplace (nuff said). After three years of self-employment, I gave in to the realisation that I had to get more qualifications; £90 a week was just not enough to live on. Even then.

And so to university. Again I loved the learning; but again I couldn’t hack the rest of it. I had a breakdown after three years, and dropped out with nothing to show for the bad taste in my mouth.

I’m still scraping a living. I sometimes wonder how different life would have been if I’d been diagnosed as a child, but I don’t believe in regrets; I believe only in moving forward from this point.

It’s taken me fifteen years this time, but I feel ready to give education another go; this autumn, my youngest will be starting school. And so will I. Wish me luck. I want to get it right this time.

Hello, my name’s Leigh, and I’m an…

I’m an aspie. There, I said it.

It was on the 16th November 2010, at 1.05pm, when I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.
I cried.
It was a life-changing moment, but also a (albeit, harrowing) confirmation of a long-held suspicion, and not a surprise.

It has been a surprise for many others, though – those who don’t know me. “Well, it is a spectrum,” they say. “You obviously don’t have it very badly.”

They wouldn’t last five minutes inside my head.

From the age of three I’ve known I was different, and that I didn’t want to be. As I grew up, I studied body language, facial expression, tone of voice, and everything else that goes along with ‘being normal’. I convinced myself that if I just worked at it hard enough, I could be like everyone else. I got quite good, didn’t I?

The trouble is, the more skilled I became at pretending (which is all it could ever be), the more people expected me to behave ‘normally’. As I mastered increasingly subtle ways of interacting (you lot have no idea how complex a conversation is, and on how many levels), it became harder and harder for me to keep up. I became exhausted. Long term, chronically tired. Which is why I finally had to know.

Knowing is good, of course – it has to be – but, remembering that I’ve dedicated my whole life to being accepted into your world, having the door slammed and locked in my face is… well, it’s been a bit upsetting.

It took me two weeks to stop crying. I went through denial, bargaining, anger… I raged at everyone: the people at my school/university, for making my life hell – peers and staff alike (note to VJ: You bullied the autistic kid. How big d’you feel now?); my parents, for their attempts to correct me with ‘discipline’; and everyone else around me for having what I wanted. I’m through that now. You’re fine. (Please scratch anything I said/wrote to the contrary in recent weeks. Thanks.)

I’m calmer now, and can forgive myself for so many things: I’m not a failure; I’m not a crybaby; I’m not a fusspot; I’m not rude or uncaring, a stubborn little madam, or any one of a myriad of confidence-destroying labels. I’m an aspie.

Learning all about what makes an aspie is like a homecoming, and reading Tony Attwood’s Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, is like reading a Haynes manual for Being Me. I wish I’d read it thirty years ago. I wish my parents and teachers had read it… Anyway, I’ve decided. I’d rather be a happy aspie, than an miserable impostor.

So when I talk to much, don’t get your jokes, object to being teased, want the music turned down, wander off by myself, or whatever… please understand I’m not being awkward, I’m being me. I hope you’re okay with that.

I am.


©2010 Life on the Spectrum