I am a 26 year old woman, diagnosed with Autism at the age of 3. My parents were told that I would be at the learning level of a two year old for the rest of my life, but they would not leave it at that. This led to a massive "war" between my parents and the Children's Hospital here in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). It got to the point where if I were ill, they would turn my parents away (or at least make us wait longer than ever). Not to be thwarted by this, my parents sought out help for themselves. One radio psychologist announced it loud and proud over the air that I would not have any hope and what were my parents thinking?...I'd love to meet her now, I really would.
One woman at the CH told my parents of a woman who had just started at treatment program for people with Autism (this would have been in 1978). At first Margaret House (Just newly built sponsored by the Society for the Treatment of Autism) would not take me because I was too young. My parents begged them to give it a try and the woman heading it did.
I spent three months there and it is the only part of my life that I cannot remember, other than when I was a baby. I can remember the night I went in (November 1978) and I can remember the day I left there (January 1979). I do not think I want to remember what happened in between, but I know that it helped and that's good enough for me. My mother tells me that she lived there with me for the whole three months and worked with the workers looking after me. I do believe that if it were not for her, I would not be where I am today.
My mother thinks that what really helped me come out of my shell was when the family moved into a new house (September 29, 1979). Where I had once been reclusive and not communicating, I was now out exploring the house and asking questions. I had not been able to talk until I was 3. We had two nurses who looked after me at first (two college students actually who were training to be nurses, one in the morning, one at night) but by the time I was four, I had come far enough that the community did not need to intervene at all. I was starting life as a "normal" child with a few "social difficulties" that would need to be worked out. My parents could do that.
In 1979, my parents took me back to the Children's Hospital and they were nothing short of amazed at how much I had improved. At the age of four, I could read at a grade 6 level (I've been reading since I was 3...my mother used to read to me and follow along with her finger. I remember forcing myself to learn how to read because I wanted to find SOME way to communicate or at least let the world in!), I could identify complex things (like knowing that a spoon is not just made out of "metal" but "Stainless Steel", and I could speak at a level far advanced for my age. I was no longer at the learning level of a two year old like they had predicted...I was at the learning level of an 11 year old at the age of four. They studied me for several days, not being able to make sense of it, but they were very apologetic to my parents.
In 1980, I started ECS at a regular school and it was hard adjusting to life with other kids and the "real" world.
You see, people with autism are in a dark type of "prison" where they cannot reach out and people cannot reach in. The best representation I have seen so far is in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" when Alice is behind the looking glass, looking at her family after having some very strange adventures in wonderland and she wants to go home. She bangs on the glass, screaming and calling out to them to help her, but they cannot hear her because when they look in the mirror, they just see themselves even though she can see them.
That is what it is like being autistic. You bang and bang on that glass, wanting them to see you, but they cannot. They just see this silent child, sitting in a corner looking to the floor, completely absorbed within themselves...even though their tortured minds are screaming out to them. Sure the adults try to make the child talk to them, they shower the child with attention, they put the child in programs and such to help them....but that glass is still there and it is stronger than Plexiglas! At a certain age, that child gives up banging on that glass, stops screaming and crying and goes into a void of despair, to which there may never be any hope of rescue. They resign themselves and close themselves completely...forever.
Luckily, I did not. I was still young enough that they could "train" that part out of me. There was brain damage that caused my problem and my mother swears it was the whooping cough vaccine because I was fine before that. Anyway, being so young, my mother being so valiant, and the people at Margaret House being so radical may possible have been what broke that Plexiglas barrier for me, who knows?
Anyway, that aside (It disturbs me greatly to speak of this), I spent the next 1o years of my life in the Catholic regular school system. (My parents say the discipline was better as well as the education even though our family is not Christian...they now think that was the worst thing they could have done for me)
The other children picked me on ruthlessly, because I was "different". Sure, I was advanced in reading and such and was good at schoolwork, I had a hard time learning social appropriateness. Children are the worst when it comes to that because when they decide they don't like you, they will go all out to make you realize that. I was a bit violent because all of this social interaction was far too much for me. (Autistic people see the outside world as being the enemy in most cases because the world is so alien to them and so uncomfortable…well, it was like that for me) By the time I was in third grade, I had learned it, but it was too late. The kids decided they did not like me and would hold me down and spit on me, throw rocks at me, etc. In the first three years, I learned to fight, in the next three I learned to be passive...neither worked. In junior high, I learned to be neutral, but those kids from my elementary school were still there and my bad reputation followed me. There seemed to be no hope for me in the way of making friends, although I did have a few people to hang out with.
High school was a little different. I went to the largest high school in the city for grade 10 and made a lot of friends, but those kids from before were there too and tarnished my reputation once again. I got beaten over the head with a stick and I did defend myself to the point where the girls who did it were not apt to try it again. I did not lay a finger on one of them...by this time I had learned to balance out the violence and the passive to the point where I was following more of a Sun Tzu philosophy "To win without fighting is best". I scared them with my lack of emotion...I learned to withdraw behind the glass just enough to hide any emotion when in a bad situation when the stimulation got to be too much.
Another pitfall of autism...over stimulation, which most people can handle seems to boil over in someone with autism. The emotions in us normally emotionless people rage out of control. No matter what the stimulation: a happy occasion, a sad occasion, a hurtful situation or an angry or threatening situation...it all overwhelms us.
It may be surprising that even a good thing can be over stimulating, but it is. With those of us it IS possible to have too much of a good thing! (which really sucks) I try now to balance my emotions and keep them at an even keel in any situation, but I still have problems sometimes.
Anyway, my parents then sent me to "Alternative High School", a high school that was very small, had 120 students...and the students ran the school. It was a "normal" school in the fact that it was not for people with disabilities or anything (one had to be responsible, academically driven and have potential to go here. There was a long application process and a waiting list), but more for kids that "fell through the system". Kids that had tried regular high school and either found it too structured, to below their level of intelligence or who just got picked on because they were different (like me.. I had very different views on thing).
That school was the best that ever happened to me. I was all of a sudden in a place that was "up" to my intelligence level and that let me be my own person. I finished two grades in about two weeks (I dawdled all year because all of a sudden I had friends and I was more entranced with that than school work!). I had signed up for 14 courses, grade 10 and 11 in one year, slacked off and then finished them all at an alarming rate in the last two weeks of school. I graduated grade 12 in the same manner...with an 81% average!
This letter is getting very long as I have never told my story to anyone before. I've just plodded along, keeping my victory over this affliction inside and striving to do better. I'll just cut to the chase in what I have accomplished and why I would love to meet up with that radio psychologist!
I graduated high school with honours in 1993. I won the Rotary Club's Youth Leadership Award that same year. I was chosen above all the other students who were always active in the community...myself, I was school treasurer and also proprietor of the school store. It was my job to run it, hire staff, etc and I loved it. I had also represented my school the year before at the People Against Impaired Driving Conference in Edmonton. I also got to teach English 30 in Grade 12 when my teacher was very ill. (I majored in English)
After school was finished with, I went to college and took my Medical Administration and Assisting course at Columbia College.
My fascination for medicine started when I was about 5 and I began to read books on the body. I also read numerous veterinary textbooks on cat anatomy and such because I had developed a love for cats. Over the years I had gotten interested in psychology and when I was 13, I got my first job in a used bookstore (I went after school one day in grade 8 and begged the guy to give me a job for the summer and he did) I bought all of the psychology and psychiatry textbooks that the university students brought in when their terms were done, because I developed an interest in psychology.
I graduated that with a 99% average wand was valedictorian I gave the most wonderful 1/2 hour speech at my graduation ceremony because I had learned that I love public speaking in Alternative High School. I got a job as a medical receptionist and assistant and moved out of my parents into my boyfriend's apartment. That relationship did not last because I either have a hard time reciprocating romantic love or I just can't find the right guy.
I then moved into my own place with my two cats. It was a dinky little basement suite, but I loved it. Over the last 5 years, I have moved seven times (due to certain circumstances...my apartment getting sold as a condo, roommate troubles, etc.). I always seem to move once or twice a year because I like change and that always renews me. (Although, I would just like to be able to stay in a place for longer than a year, because moving is a huge pain in the butt!)
I worked as an executive secretary for a neurologist at the medical school for three years and so was able to buy a lot of the medical and psychiatry textbooks as well as nursing textbooks from the bookstore there.
I have worked in a used bookstore, a thrift store, medical clinics galore and now I do security at the largest oil tower in Canada while I teach myself computer programming. I decided that secretarial was below my intelligence and I want something where I can go somewhere and be a professional instead of someone's peon.
Who am I now? I am a 26 year old woman who lives on my own with my two cats. I drive, I do my own taxes, I work and I program websites and computers, I make computer graphics and run a business doing this on the side of my job. I like to go to the clubs and dance with my friends. I am an artist (My work can be viewed at http://thaylann.tripod.com/ArtGallery.html - Athelia is another pen name that I use), I am a musician, I am a singer, I'm a writer who is working on a book and writes a weekly internet-based column on my spirituality...I am a normal person who is completely self-sufficient, thank you very much.
Sure, I still have some traits of my former self (the autistic one)...I don't feel external pain, I have to be careful not to get over stimulated lest I have a panic attack (and no, I am not taking any of the psycho-drugs for it), I have digestive problems (and no doctor can figure it out to help me...they've put it down as IBS) and all that.
I'm not in care for anything from my past, just the stomach problems. Before the stomach problems escalated in 1993 when I graduated, I had not seen a doctor in almost a decade!
I not "autistic" or "disabled" (except for the fact that I have a hard time going for lunch with someone because of my limited diet)...I am a normal person, who has accomplished much in her short life. I am a spiritual person...not Christian though. Been there done that, hated it...found my true calling in my faith, and I think that is what has helped me the most in my later life.
At the present time, I am looking into getting my degree in psychology.
I've prattled on enough about myself and shall sign off here, lest I bore you all to death with my details!
Know that there IS hope and everything can be overcome...if you have the strength and the will to do it (and you catch things on time)!