Neurodivergent Dora and the Lost City of Gold

I have struggled for the last six months with the thought of writing specifically about my own Neurodivergency. I’ve read so many other peoples articles and tweets about being an autistic youth, being an autistic teacher and being a parent of an autistic child. Learning about self diagnosis and its validity has been immensely important. Not only because it supports what I have learned and understand about myself, but it also clarifies that we’ve always been self diagnosing before seeing a doctor, especially if there are symptoms. It seems, that at my age, there is no point in seeking diagnosis for particular issues.

Autism is seen as a childhood disability. I wonder why the autistic community has to demand that there is a through-line from childhood, adolescence to adulthood that offers support. Unless there is some huge severity identified that prevents “normal” living, the idea is that you outgrow this behavior. When in fact, if you are able to work and live in society well enough, you may have simply learned how to mask the disability.

So that’s what I’ve done my whole life. Masked things. My parents and I probably employed behavior modification around the same time. There are many situations that I think about that children shouldn’t experience whether they’re rich or poor, adored or neglected. The ones that I’m going to discuss are my own. Like being disciplined as a child and being made to sit and face the corner of a wall and if I turned around I got smacked. Or discovering the seeds of my OCD when I was sent to my room without the ability to watch TV or talk on the phone. I spent hours organizing my clothes or desk. Once it became two in the morning, the only thing left to do was vacuum, so I did that the old-fashioned way, with my hands. Or after my grandfather died and I started to realize that I could no longer focus on what people were saying because my mind was too full or too empty. This is the secret behavior I would take into high school

In high school I thought this was me just being a go-getter. Not high functioning in an autism spectrum kind of way, but having to compete and outperform so that I’d have my parents respect and get into college. By the end of high school, I had something that resembled an ulcer and I was sick 13 times my senior year. I kept a tally. It’s true.

While an autistic student may be able to use fidget gadgets and noise reducing headsets, I was told I was unprofessional when I put in my headphones to refocus my mind away from the chaos.

While an autistic student is able to create an IEP, I receive no special supports or extended time. To be an adult is to not need special supports or more time. To be an autistic adult, even if you had an IEP in school as a child, is to still have to mask, blend in, or be called out.

In my current position as an educator, I have found many things to be reactive to given that I’m neurodivergent. I do my best to be a model of controlled behavior but that doesn’t work because the people witnessing your behavior are biased regardless. When I can’t control what’s going on in my environment my behavior may reflect that.

I saw this very clearly a year and a half ago when a college student came to visit our school to do their teaching hours. These are hours that their university asks them to fulfill by finding different teachers they can observe. This young man fit the stereotypical traits of someone with autism and I don’t think it was a secret. But it was something that nobody spoke about sincerely. They were mostly irritated by how high pitched his voice was. That he would repeat stories because a new person appeared in the room. The response to this young man was to avoid him. This frightens me because he fits every other power descriptor necessary to have a nice life with your basic rights; white cis heterosexual male.

I have been called odd, weird, strange, difficult, different, alien (even Star child) since I can remember. Those words describe me and they describe someone who may be autistic. And yet if I sat down with anyone who knew me 20 years ago, or more, they would look at me funny. They would not believe me. And in that moment I would find myself a liar, again questioning my mind and my behavior.

Or they would require an education I can’t quite give them since I’m learning about these things myself. I defined myself by markers of success such as degrees and jobs. There are many other layers that I acknowledge but those are the most important in our society. At least for normative recognition. And so I am concerned for the young person who has to become an adult in a world that is not the shape of water.

I am thinking about the adult that wants so much more for themselves and knew or did not know why they couldn’t achieve it. See or did not see the obstacles constructed actively in front of them as they approached.

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