I’ve spoken a lot about school so I thought it best to dedicate an entire chapter to it. I also wrote a similar chapter to this in Finding Kansas but from when I wrote the chapter “School” to writing this now my knowledge about myself, and the autism spectrum, has grown immensely.
I’ll start by saying that school was not easy for me. You’ve probably gathered that by the numerous examples I’ve given so far be it the fire drills or my love of arguing with those in authority. Anyway, preschool was difficult to begin with as my language skills weren’t that developed at the time, and I should mention I’ve been told most people don’t have memories to the details I have, but I always got so frustrated when I would talk and no one would listen or understand what I was saying. On top of that, when any sort of pretend play would happen I’d try to state what was wrong, or how to do it, but my words were never understandable.
By the time kindergarten came along I was better at speaking but I didn’t have much interest in communicating with those my own age. I did have one friend my own age, my neighbor, but he was in another class. Also, those my own age didn’t interest me as I’d much rather talk to the teacher because, either she understood me better, had interest in what I was saying, or was good at pretending on knowing what I was saying. This isn’t to say that I didn’t make the attempt to socialize. Yes, I tried, but not in the most appropriate of ways as I’d talk about my Kansas’ be it auto racing, the flags of racing, the drivers of racing, the cars of racing, the tracks of racing, car numbers, or the weather. In extreme events, when I was worried about the Soviet Union, I’d speak about my fears of intercontinental nuclear war which always got the same response with me being looked at oddly and then being left alone.
When others would try and join me in the fun of pattern blocks (okay, pattern blocks were and are the most awesome thing ever made. Sensory wise, there was nothing better than putting them together and creating all sort of neat designs one hexagon at a time) I would always disagree with the way they had their design so I had no qualms in letting them know. If they didn’t adhere to my advice I’d coldly go over and destroy what they were doing because it wasn’t right. This was a theme in all my time at school. I may have been labeled the “teacher’s pet” but I could have a streak of seemingly mean or cold behavior. This would go towards anyone, as mentioned in the previous chapter because teachers were no excluded from this.
After kindergarten and first grade came around I was scared out of my mind. I didn’t understand how, when I was in kindergarten, the amount of hours were doubling. After lunch on my first day the nerves got so great that I vomited right there at my desk. This was a one-way ticket home and using my “Film Theory” from Finding Kansas this started a precedent of how to avoid school albeit this first example was fully involuntary.
I may have difficult towards my classmates, but I was also a terror to substitutes. To my primary teachers I’d almost be a timekeeper and if the top of the hour was near and we weren’t in transition to the next subject I’d adamantly protest. Rules are rules and schedules are schedules and any deviance is not accepted. My 1st and 2nd grade teachers were amazing in that they tolerated this behavior and were always understanding and they’d explain it logically to me if we went over the allotted time. However, when it came to subs, well, that’s a different story.
As I state in my presentations my most famous, or infamous, run in with a sub was in 2nd grade. She came in and straight away put a wheel on the board. Now, I loved wheels and any game that loved a wheel automatically got three bonus points in my mind, but this wheel, wherever it came from whether it was from the depths of hell, or a teacher’s supply store, it needed to go back. You see, it was segmented into different subjects and she called it a topsy-turvy day and she would spin the wheel and whatever subject came up next would be the next subject we would do. Um… NO! I don’t do random all that well and in this subs defense every kid in the class thought this was the best thing ever, but I was the poster child for preparedness and this random element was not sitting well so I complained and she politely said, “Yes, Aaron, I know” and spun the wheel.
So often subs will use this logic when explaining something, “We’re going to do it this way because I said so.” If you want to lose a person on the spectrum use this language because it won’t make sense. It quite simply won’t because if everyone in the world used this language the question has to be asked, “Whose say so would have more say so than the next say so?” This is why we have rules, routines, and schedules and to come along and change it without any explanation other than, “because I said so” is only going to illicit a response of fear and anger. Why fear? Here’s the thing; if you’re making this change now what’s preventing you from using the same logic 15 minutes from now on another topic. This is something most people won’t think of as most people are a “now” thinker meaning they are only seeing the here and now, but for us on the spectrum we may be constantly thinking ahead and if you change something now everything I foresee happening is questionable because the only guarantee is that random could happen at any moment.
So the teacher spun the wheel and the next hour I complained again and got the same polite response but then in the third hour I finally had a logical argument because we did have a printed schedule on the wall. I rose my hand with extra oomph as she went to spin the wheel and I pointed towards the schedule and stated my protest and she looked over, saw it, and walked over and proceeded to rip it off the wall, threw it on the floor, and then spun the wheel. The worst part was my 2nd grade teacher was gone for the entire week so I really hope her week in Florida was worth it!
3rd grade was not a pleasant experience. I changed schools and had a very inconsistent teacher. One day she’d be firm the next would be random. It was hard for me to feel any level of comfort and she also had the, “look at me when I’m talking to you” mentality so that year was not one I enjoyed.
4th grade was great as my teacher really challenged me and got me thinking outside the box. It’s amazing what a teacher can do without doing much, but Mrs. Colvin was a great example of that as she didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but she used many of my existing interests to spawn new interests. Going to school was never fun for me, and I would protest or be “sick” in the morning to avoid going but when the last day of school came I cried for the first time at the prospect that I’d never be in her classroom again.
5th grade was a turning point for me as halfway through the year my family moved from Indianapolis to Saint Louis and on my last day in Indy two major things happened. The first was I learned I landed the lead role in the school play which I wouldn’t be able to play and secondly, and more importantly, my class that I was leaving behind bought me a College Park Elementary school pencil. While it may have not been much, and it may have only cost a nickel from the school store, it quickly because the world to me.
In Saint Louis it took a couple weeks before I felt comfortable going to school but eventually my parents no longer asked if I were ready so off I went and, sadly, the class I went to had a habit of pranking the new kid. What did they do? I’m sure pranking has come a long way from this seemingly innocent prank pulled against me, but during the lunch/recess hour a fellow student got into my classroom and hid all my pens and pencils. This was almost fine because I wouldn’t have cared if my new pencils and pens were gone. However, that College Park Elementary school pencil was gone as well and since I don’t remember people visually without a physical item it was very much like deleting the memories of those in Indy. Because of this my reaction was not a mild one but was rather severe. And because of that whoever pulled the prank did not come forward and if anyone had knowledge they kept it to themselves because no one wanted to have any part of the trouble that one might have gotten into considering my reaction.
A few months later when the teacher’s podium was moved for the floor to be cleaned my supplies were found, but it was too late by then. No one could understand, including myself, why inanimate objects had such an effect on me and since first impressions are important I never really fit in at that school. This trend would continue and eventually I’d be homeschooled which is where I’d finish up my schooling career.
There are several more points I’d like to make about school. The first is that I struggled in anything that required a group. There were many reasons why from not wanting to socialize to not trusting other’s work and if there were any debates on anything I’d be about as close-minded as possible because I knew I was right and it was my way or no way. Group work often has results much like mine and there was one project in 7th grade that I actually submitted my own personal submission outside of the group I was in. It wasn’t that I misunderstood the idea of a group but rather it was that I didn’t trust their work, they didn’t listen, and I knew I was right.
Secondly, I could be cruel when it came to others around me if they didn’t pick something up as easily as I did. Things did either come easy (math, geography) or things were impossible for me (anything fine motor, English, spelling) but during the part of class where the teacher would call upon students to answer a question, and I knew it, I’d let our verbal, “Ugh’s” and “Grrr’s” when someone got it wrong because this meant two things; the first was that they didn’t know which was beyond me because I had the mindset of, “if I can do it everyone can do it” and secondly was that a wrong answer meant we’d talk about this longer which, since I already knew it, meant more minutes of endless boredom.
Finally, and on a positive, as I mentioned my 4th grade teacher was phenomenal as was my 2nd grade teacher. They both did something which I swear let me become the person I am today. In school the only thing I enjoyed were academic games as long as it wasn’t a spelling bee although in 2nd grade I tied for the win for the class but I just got lucky as everything I got was geography based so I let the other person go to the school spelling bee. Anyway, when it came to flashcards or states and capitols I lived for those games and the game played was a one question, sudden death winner takes all and proceeds to the next desk duel to end all duels. It was simple; get it right and proceed. Get it wrong and wait and sadly, for my classmates, both of these subjects fell within my Kansas so rarely did anyone else get to play. In 1st and 3rd grades I was declared the “retired champion” and was exiled to the corner to do busy work. This work wasn’t graded but I had to do anyway. Talk about a logic fail! Instead of banishment in 2nd and 4th grades my teachers did something else as I got a promotion and became the host of the game. I either held the flashcard or named the state or the capitol but all in all this was practice for public speaking.
For the teachers reading this I first salute you and secondly I have to say that you can do amazing things for us and you may never know the outcome. Society can get so caught up in trying to fix everything right this second, but sometimes it is like planting seeds and the seeds planted for myself took two decades to sprout, but here I am. It may not take much sometimes and outside the subs I had my teachers never got angry with me which, had they, I may have become afraid of them. Also, several of my teachers were able to engage me in my interests which built up a trust with them. My 2nd grade teacher began to follow auto racing and she would quiz me as to where the world traveling Formula One series would be racing and she once asked me, “Aaron, where is Silverstone?” which I knew the track but had just a faint idea about where it was and that it might be in someplace called England and from that moment on my love of travel and learning about new places were born. So yes, while I did write a lot about my negative experiences there positive ones as well and I never got the chance to say thank you the wonderful teachers I had so I must dedicate this chapter to them to express my gratitude because without them I would not have achieved what I have.