I can’t honestly say that I knew, even thought I was Autistic when I was growing up.
Autism wasn’t a word I’d ever heard and nor had my parents. I was just me and given that each family member had their own set of idiosyncratic behaviours, being different just seemed pretty normal. Well, our kind of normal.
We never gelled as a family. We were never close or “cuddly”. We got on with each other but each of us was distant and it seemed like it was only at meal times that we came together.
I was never sociable. The concept of friendship was, still is, quite alien to me. I mean, what do you do with them ?. I never had a group to hang around with or had birthday parties to attend. I wasn’t one of the in crowd so invitations were thin on the ground. That was fine by me. Parties were noisy, crowded, I might not like the food, had to pick a suitable present and there was a horrible social convention of having to invite the person who had invited you to your own party. Yuck!.
I had people I played with. I played football in the football season and cricket in the cricket season in the park a couple of streets away with a few boys I knew but my being a stickler for the rules and organising them was sometimes a step too far when you just want to kick a ball about.
And there were bullies. There are always bullies.
I got bullied for being different, for being organised, for, yes, having intelligence. But not having street smarts.
I liked to play with things in a very structured manner. I built things in solid colours of Lego bricks and got frustrated if I ran out of that colour. I couldn’t handle dull toy cars, I needed the brightest yellows and purples. I liked to collect toy soldiers so I could group them into regiments for proper manoeuvres. I didn’t want four or five, I wanted whole armies of Crusaders and Saracens so I could fight the great battles of the crusades.
I wasn’t. Okay, I am still not, spontaneous. I had to think everything through.
And I talked. My mother used to bribe me to be quiet for just five minutes. I was garrulous and endlessly chattering. Most of it was, apparently, nonsense. To them maybe but not to me as I held forth on football (usually) or my views on the world in general.
School was a huge struggle. This was before the days where statements and SEN were heard of. I struggled in an alien world where there were rules….but people wanted to break them. Where break times, unless I played football, were just an indescribable mess of noise and chaos usually spent trying to avoid the bully who wanted to kick you for having looked at him the wrong way and where teachers looked at you with contempt if you complained as if to say “Man up!”.
People messed about in class. Teachers were scared of some and did nothing. I was jabbed with compasses, was partially strangled, had chairs taken just as I went to sit on them, was spat at, threatened, punched, thrown off a moving bus and finally, to top it all, had my clothes thrown in the school showers and urinated on.
That’s what being different got me. For being socially awkward, clumsy, hopeless with girls, saying stupid stuff, being nerdy, not fitting in, not having any talents the bullies could use (like being a good sportsman in their team) and being a very tall, very skinny, pudding bowl haircut, acne riddled, bespectacled youth, a whole lot of abuse and bullying.
Yes, I grew up different.
And it wasn’t much fun.