I have mentioned a number of times that I am learning about my son and his experience with autism.
I don’t think I have mentioned that I am finding it in myself, namely, Asperger’s.
Some of it is freeing, an insight into understanding myself better. But most of it is painful memories. Memories of being teased and bullied because I was different… even by parents. The more I study, the more I seem to find reminders of the nightmare.
I *hate* the term “little professor”. Hans Asperger may have used it with love, but “big” professors already bear some scorn: “the ivory tower syndrome”, and “people who live inside their heads.” If my experience runs anything true to that detestable term, then that ivory tower is actually a cage, like the stocks or the pillories, where passers-by can throw rotten produce at the hapless person within.
Here’s a bitter irony: I had a band director in my first year of college (a religious-affiliated junior college) who I thought was a putz. He was not overtly mean, but he did seem to me to have an inflated ego and the group played better when he was gone. He’s one of a number of reasons why I don’t play golf: would you, slicing bad on the 16th hole, walking the course, like golf if your host rode up in a golf cart and shouted, “Hey, what’s taking so long? Hurry up!”
I remember a performance review at the end of the first semester: the classic fill-in-the bubble multiple choice sort of thing. He promised that our comments would be anonymous, but he hauled me into his office after reading mine. I will never forget what he said: “You think differently. You need to think more like the way other people do.”
My undergraduate studies came to an end in 2000, a full eight years later. I was at a university where a divorced professor was waging political war with another professor. She had managed to wrangle the directorship of the choral department away from him a few years earlier, and that year, she managed to force him out of the university entirely. The music department brought students into the mess, and they all had their political alliances for her, or for him. Now, the spurned professor was married. The department did not want to lose his wife, who was very talented as their music education specialist, but he got the axe, so she was rather forced to go with him. So we students also had to choose her successor.
I was locked in battle with the Curriculum & Supervision department. I had failed the pre-Autumn experience. I had failed student teaching, while repeating pre-Autumn along with it, back to back. They were supposed to be providing me disability accomodations. They dropped the ball. I walked into a meeting where a man turned from a hungry jackal to a mortified deer in split seconds, I suppose because I met his searing criticism with a look of burning rage.
Other professors were going to the local news media, their faces and voices obscured, with one phrase ringing in my ears: “I am employed in a hostile work environment.”
I flash back to a time in my early childhood, when I excitedly started describing something I was interested in. “You’re such a little professor”, my mother said. Fast forward again and speaking with my father, he recalled the moment, or moments: “You were such a little professor.”
More racing thoughts… I hate this, but can I use it to connect more deeply with my son? The school evaluation said he was right between high-functioning and Asperger’s, if such a designation even exists, because the two terms were also used interchangably. I did not struggle especially academically, only socially, and very much so. Boy struggles socially, but he does have some developmental delays that are documented.
But Boy changed my life. Ever since he started to walk and talk, he demanded physical touch. Hugs, pats, whatever. If I provided it in some way, even if I was distracted, he was usually satisfied. He demands more, now, but again, always with touch. He is starting to say, “Daddy, pay attention to me!” even as he is head-butting and wrestling me. That touch fills an emptiness in my soul, even though others in his life (women, for some reason– Cimmy, Princess, his schoolteacher) find so much of it annoying. I want him to be well-mannered, but secretly, I love this. I want him to spar with me, or that he suddenly decides he is one of our favorite foods, or that he is a pet dog, or any other number of his imaginations. I enjoy and love it.
My father was not cold and distant, but in my early childhood, he tried to be. He responded to my social awkwardness with harsh discipline or angry words. I learned that it was a mask of sorts, or rather, he didn’t know how to deal with me. Recently, we have found common ground in shared pain.
But… the touch is not there. It’s not the same.
Dear readers, let us revisit a clip I’ve posted here before.
(start at :43 if that helps)