This personal narrative was written by Megan Killinger, a student in one of my Composition-101 classes during the Fall-Winter 2010 semester.
“No, no, no! Look at me, Megan!” my mother would say to me tapping the tip of her nose with her finger, repeatedly trying to get me to make eye contact. She did her nose-tapping routine in public — pretty much everywhere, anytime I’d forget to look at her or at someone else. I hated her for it. She never understood me, no matter how I tried. Whenever she did her nose tapping thing, I could feel a hot flush of anger rush through me, aching like the pulse of blood behind a bruise. Apparently, I needed to get it through my head that the person who I was “wasn’t cutting it,” and I needed to transform myself into someone else more acceptable: a hard lesson to learn — that “what you are” isn’t good enough.
As a child, I hated crowds — hated going to the mall — rarely made eye contact, and had a tendency to say whatever I wanted. I was constantly told my actions were “inappropriate,” and I learned to live in a world filled with criticism and boundaries.
I was always the odd one. School was a penitentiary for me, for it was difficult to make friends. I watched my peers react to each other, and that’s how I learned the basics on “How to Make Friends-101.” Personally, I would have preferred to have hit myself in the face with a shovel rather than associate with people, for kids always saw me as “weird.” I was too blunt or too curious; I learned that telling the truth was not always acceptable. For example, when someone asked me if the outfit she was wearing made her look fat, I learned that it isn’t always appropriate to tell the truth.
So I clammed up.
Growing up, my mother and my doctors were the worst. My mother constantly told me “We’ll find out what’s wrong and fix it.” But I didn’t think anything was wrong with me; nevertheless, I must have seen fourteen different psychologists. No one could figure it out, until one day, as I sat there, playing with some little wooden blocks (as per usual), I heard something I didn’t think I’d ever hear.
“I know what it is!” Quack Doc #14 said to my mother, oh so casually, after spending a lovely ten minutes with me. His stupid tone, just like all the others and their lame stereotypical Quack Doc questions; how I wished I could kick him his shin and see how breezy his tone would be then.
I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and no — it doesn’t mean I’m “retarded.” My life drastically changed that day — November 12, 1999. My mother was finally granted a reason for my so-called “abnormal” behavior. She cried, and her sobs sounded like a dying mouse; maybe someone told her that I was a retard.
Once I had a diagnosis, my mother enjoyed telling people “my secret” to anyone I brought home. This shattered the “normal” image I worked so hard to create. I watched and tried to make myself as much like the others as possible, so I’d have a chance at fitting in. Honestly, I’m still impressed at how well I did. I was (and still am) careful about how close I let people get to me at first, so when I drop “the Asperger bomb,” they know me and then they can decide whether it changes anything. But back then, with my mom beating me to the punch, it made maintaining friendships a lot more difficult. When people heard the word “autistic,” they automatically conjured up a drooling idiot or something along those lines.
After I was diagnosed at age 9, I felt like a drug-lord-zombie for a while. It seemed like Quack Doc had me trying out a new medicine every month. Concerta was a real winner. When I took Concerta, I felt like all my life’s blood had been drained, like I wasn’t present — almost. Once, while on that medication, I sat and counted the lines on a bug’s wings. It is amazing how a person can tell her doctor that what they’re giving her is making her ill and then have that doctor respond by prescribing a higher dose of the same medication. Things were eventually adjusted.
I used to get angry with myself, when someone could tell I was autistic. I kept telling myself I didn’t have Asperger’s, that I wouldn’t be that person, but I stopped fighting and learned to accept my diagnosis. I tried to make small changes, for I understand now in order to obtain what I want — a “normal life” — I have to play by everyone else’s rules: Monkey-see, monkey do.
These days I have some fancy coping mechanisms. One of my coping methods is to play a type of mind game, which involves me asking a ridiculous amount of questions without giving much information about myself. In other words, I get the person I’m talking to inform me about themselves without really having to say much at all. In addition, I always check myself to make sure I look everyone square in the eye and, I am happy to report, I have made some close friends. I even like going to the dreaded crowded, noisy mall.
What I have gathered from my 18 years of life experience is that people reject what they don’t know. If they don’t understand something, most people don’t even want to try. My first semester at college was exactly what I expected, for the most part. To be honest, I was just really excited to have a fresh start. At college, no one knows anything is “wrong” with me, which is a great feeling. I’m finding acceptance in college, and its a part of what I have always wanted: to be seen with unbiased eyes. Sometimes I still speak a little too quickly and I still have to watch what I say to people. I suppose I will always find it hard to blend in, but college is showing me that there can be more to life than just blending in.