I am an autistic adult who lived undiagnosed through the sixties and seventies in a school environment where differences were not accepted and teachers thought quiet, bright, students could be left alone in favor of the more vocal, struggling ones. I fell through the cracks and landed in a no-man’s land of bullying, rejection, sensory assaults, and pervasive loneliness.
As I think about those early years, my mind wanders back to a typical day and I visualize one of the most important conversations of my life.
In my mind’s eye I see her sitting alone in a room full of people. The setting: a middle school cafeteria during the time the kids are finishing their lunches and there’s a cacophony of voices reaching an ear-piercing noise level. She looks uncomfortable. I wonder if it’s the aloneness, the noise, or the embarrassment of sitting by herself. I remember the feeling of all of those discomforts. Even so, most of the time loneliness was the worst pain of all.
Standing in the doorway of this memory, I watch amazed by the raw rejection by her peers. She is invisible to them. She doesn’t exist in their eyes. They’ve tired of their enjoyment of bullying her and moved on to erasing her existence as far as feasibly possible.
I tentatively walk into the room having to fight my own memories of sitting at that same table. Oh, how I had wished someone would come sit with me. A person to listen to my pain and help me to find my way out of the cloak of invisibility my peers had put around my shoulders sometime after the bullying stopped.
I walk right up to her table and sit down in a chair next to her. She doesn’t move her eyes off her book. Finally, she takes a peek. I try to have a peaceful expression on my face. She lifts her head and commits to a long, penetrating look at me. Distrustfully, she stares at me, waiting for me to make the first move.
I smile easily and say hello to a face similar to mine. I tell her I can see her and she is not to worry, I’m a friend. I tell her a bit about myself, in ways she can relate, and she listens. Eventually, she rewards me with some information about herself. Information I am very familiar with deep down inside. Knowing I don’t have much time, I take a risk to hurry and let her know some truths that have been kept from her. I tell her she matters. She is a valuable human being who has a lot to give to the world. She can sit taller and use her voice to be heard. I tell her she can use her creativity and the amazing way she thinks outside-of-the-box to solve problems and make a real difference in her life and in the lives of others.
Her ears hear my words, her eyes glisten as the meaning of the words warm her heart, and she does sit taller in her chair. I encourage her to embrace her differences and to be her unique, wonderful self. She continues to listen as I explain how to trust herself, take care of herself, and to stand up for herself. My final gift of knowledge is to introduce her to a very special person. Her very own best friend who will be with her throughout her whole life – herself!
Well, that was a bit emotional for me and I felt my eyes tear up and a sense of peace wash over me. I can only imagine how she felt. As I visually walked out of that memory, I felt lighter, calmer, and much happier than I felt before this trip back through time. I knew, deep down inside, that by helping her, I helped myself.
It truly was one of the most important conversations of my life because it was one of many that followed as I continued to travel back in time to difficult memories and changed them to be times of growth, strength, and hope. My goal is for the traumatized girl of my youth, enlightened by the years of experience I have to share with her will ultimately merge together to become the best version of me.