The following post has been written by an adult woman with whom I have had the privilege to correspond. She recently contacted me to share how reading other perspectives impacts her in a positive way. I asked her if she would be interested in sharing her story here, and she has written a lovely post detailing some of her experiences and perspectives about being an adult with autism in the teaching profession. We have a long way to go with creating a society where all people feel safe and comfortable to reveal their neurological diversity without concern for a negative response. I am honoured to be able to share her perspective. Her anonymous name for the purposes of this post is Mrs. Teacher Lady… and here is her story:
I wanted to thank you for all the hard work you do in not only helping your son through his journey and helping him accept himself, but helping others on their own journey as well. I wanted to share with you a little bit of my story. I have always found it difficult to open up, but your posts about adults on the spectrum are helping.
I am an aspie-mom with two children on the spectrum; one with Aspergers and one with PDD-NOS plus ODD, possible bipolar, and dysgraphia. I am also a teacher.
Below you will find what I recently posted on a parent support site to which I belong. I was really uncertain about posting it, not sure if it was the right thing to do. I have been overwhelmed with responses of hugs and thank yous for sharing. It was really nice to have that.
Here is my story:
“It is always about what words to use, more than the actual story. The ability to word things has always been an issue for me. There is so much churning in my mind that it is difficult to sort, and when I try to, my mind seems to go blank. So I let it churn. I find that eventually my mind starts to form order in the chaos and words start pouring out of me.
I wish I had the freedom to tell people that I have Aspergers like my son does. There have been times when a stranger at a store will try to engage him and he will tell them that he has Aspergers and he has trouble answering certain questions. I didn’t grow up knowing that I was on the spectrum, and in my profession ‘coming out’ is not really a good idea. There is a real fear that if parents find out that their child’s teacher is autistic there will be a back lash. There are so many misconceptions about ASD that people would see me as “unfit”. They don’t understand that an NT can also be “unfit” and that autism has nothing to with your ability to teach. So, I hide my stims as best as I can, which is very difficult when I am under stress.
It was a really rough year last year, I was way overloaded, and I needed help. I couldn’t hide my symptoms anymore. I needed to tell someone. I went to the union president. She told me that she really didn’t know anything about autism and that I shouldn’t say anything to anyone, because she, and many others on staff, did not trust the administrators. She did help me, though, without having to bring up the autism issue.
I am happy that my son feels safe enough to tell people he has Aspergers. My daughter is embarrassed and really doesn’t understand why she does what she does. I think developmentally she is just not ready yet. Maybe, some day, both she and I can feel free to tell others we are autistic and we are okay with that.”
Why did I finally write what I wrote? I have always been a private person and it is hard to express how I feel, and I feel a lot. I have been accused by my own family members that I don’t feel, that I am selfish, and that I don’t care about anyone else. I have heard it more than once and it felt like a sword going through me each time. I feel. I feel so much that it physically hurts.
Yes, I agree that I have trouble relating to things that I have had no prior experience with. I can’t seem to put myself in other people’s shoes, but I do care, I just don’t show it in ways that people tend to understand.
My response time to events is not always timed with the event. In fact, I have no warning when I will react to something. It could be at that time, or it could be months later. I was once told by a doctor that I was the most stoic person she had ever met. I didn’t want to be. I wanted people to understand how much pain I was in and that I needed help. I just didn’t know how.
I was officially diagnosed having Aspergers shortly after my son was. He was seven years old at the time, almost eight, and I was 35. He smiled when we told him his diagnosis. He was so relieved. He had felt so different and really thought there was something wrong with him. We told him that having Aspergers meant that his brain was wired differently, that he saw the world differently than other people.
When I got my official diagnosis I felt like a burden had been lifted. Having a name to explain what I had been going through all my life helped so much. I wasn’t strange, or weird, or broken. I felt I could finally be me. My family noticed the change, too. I seemed more relaxed to them, my symptoms also became more apparent. I stopped trying to hide them. I also stopped trying to be the person my family had always expected me to be. I starting being me, the real me.
As a teacher, though, it was a whole different story. I had to maintain an image, even though I wanted so badly to tell people that I was autistic. I wanted them to understand me, but I was afraid. I had always tried to stay in the shadows, tried not to get noticed. I have a tendency of making social faux pas and I could never understand what I did wrong. I felt alone and isolated among my colleagues.
I want to feel accepted for who I am. I want people to understand that I am not wired to function the way people are expected to in our society, and that I might need help from time to time. But I can’t! Not the way society is now! Not the way autistics are viewed in a non-autistic world!
Little by little I am doing what I can: spreading the word about autism, that it is not a disease, and there is no “cure“. I can understand parents of children who are non-verbal and non-functional of wanting to have a “normal” child. They want to be able to talk to their child, they want their child to have a “normal” life, or what they feel is normal anyway.
In the school where I used to teach there was a student who was like that. He couldn’t talk and had to have a para-educator with him all the time. People were frustrated by him or they laughed at him. They called him a ‘character’ when he acted out. I wanted to grab those people, make them understand that he wasn’t being a character – he was in pain. I could understand him… I could empathize.
There were times that he would get out of the special education room and he always seemed to end up in my classroom. He never caused any problems. I figured his para-educator would find him eventually… and he seemed to act differently with me than others. This boy was a hair-puller and really hurt people. He once got behind me and grabbed my hair, but he didn’t pull. He just held on to it like my daughter does and I let him. He let go of it when I asked. His para-educator was really surprised by that.
I asked my husband once why he thought this particular student acted the way he did around me. He said that he thought this boy and I shared a connection – a non-verbal connection: we understood each other at a level that others could not.
I don’t see autism as a tragedy; I see it a different way. Autism is a part of me, as it is a part of both my children. You take away the autism – you take away the person. I like who I am. I once asked my son if he ever wanted to not have Aspergers. He told me no, it was who he was and he was fine with it.
I hope what I have written is helpful. Again, the churning started spilling out and I had to write until I was finished. Thank you for this opportunity of helping people understand a little better what it is like to be living on the autism spectrum.
Sincerely and with hope,
Mrs. Teacher Lady
Thank you, Mrs. Teacher Lady, for sharing of yourself so bravely and generously. I am moved and honoured by the privilege of sharing your post. Your voice needs and deserves to be heard – to remind us all that there are many opportunities to encourage others who experience the world differently: the person who lives next door, your mechanic, someone struggling in the grocery line, or even your child’s teacher. For them, and for our children – and for their futures… I thank you!!
You are a hero of mine!
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.
© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2012)