The Undercover Autistic in School

         How do you know if you are average or different? Well most likely someone had told you that the particular actions you do fit under the normal or abnormal category. Or perhaps you made a judgment of your own by examining those around you and making your own definition of what is normal and abnormal. I was someone who used the second option. I placed myself and my actions in the normal category and anyone who did things differently was weird and therefore put in the abnormal category. So this was the mindset I had as a kid “I am normal, I’m not weird” and I lived to that saying so much that I unknowingly masked my autism. To the point that no one knew I was autistic for 16 years. I became the undercover autistic girl in school and this is how I survived it. 

So let us start at the beginning with elementary which probably be some of the easiest years of a kid’s life right? Well in most cases yes but I always seem to over complicate the simplest task. Such as making friends, it’s hard to find them and even harder to keep them. Though luckily some friends found me and they had lots of patience for me. Homework is another aspect of school that I made difficult for myself. I had placed an expectation on myself to get nothing less than A’s and 100% on any assignments because I had learned from my surroundings that good grades mean positive attention from my teachers and parents. Which I had translated into love and self worth at such a young age. Although when I didn’t get those high grades I would cry and literally beat myself about it because I thought I had failed. Unfortunately I never spoke to anyone about these struggles because I’m normal right? So every other normal person probably goes through this too and I continued on with this mindset into middle school.

Once I was in middle school staying undercover became even more of a challenge. I not only had my high expectations of perfect grades but I had to learn to have appropriate social interactions with other people since throughout elementary my friends and all my teachers had been so understanding and given me grace for all my faults. Though now I wasn’t going to have those friends or those teachers, the expectation for proper behavior was higher. So step one to surviving middle school is to find friends which sure enough was someone who found me instead. Her name is Ameerah and she already suspected of my quirky traits and knew being direct and clear was the best way to communicate to me so she literally asked “do you want to be friends” and I said yes. So happy ever after right? Well I found a great person that would stick with me through the ages but I just needed to avoid all of the other people that might bring some trouble. Kids this age often used lots of sarcasm and made lots of inappropriate references that I simply never understood because my brain didn’t work that way. So I was quite the target for other kids and in defense to kids that wanted to bully me I literally bit them. Which might be seen as anger or behavior issues but I saw it as self defense. The whole not recognizing facial expressions and understanding social cues was already causing conflict between me and other kids my age and now I had to face adult teachers who demanded a certain level of respect. Though of course there were some expectations of phenomenal teachers who did give that extra level of grace and help to a student who secretly is autistic. So as a curious learner I often asked a lot of questions which most of the time could be unnecessary but I had such a desire to learn. Although since I was such a learner I tipped easily into becoming a smart aleck and often corrected others when they were wrong. Which I did because I honestly thought I was helping them but many teachers found this very disrespectful and to add on top my pride would not be settled until I proved my point as well. Then as a result I ended up in the principal’s office often. Those three years of middle school were an overbearing amount of stress of trying to fit in while getting good grades, and avoiding conflict with kids and teachers. I was drowning in anxiety, depression and an overall state of confusion of why life is so hard for me and sadly I didn’t ask anyone for help because I had to keep it all together or perhaps I didn’t want anyone to think less of me. Though this lifestyle and lying to myself that “I am normal” wasn’t going to be sustainable any longer and in high school things had to change.

The college where I took dual credit classes at.

In high school my best friend Ameerah did not join me and enrolled elsewhere. I was alone this time while any other friends I had, proved to be fake or bad influences. My depression was cancer to my brain and all I could feel was the pain. I felt there was no way out. Though somehow my heart knew I needed help. So I cried out for someone to save me and make this madness stop now. My mom was my hero though at the time I wouldn’t have said that. She pulled me out of school and got me involved in counseling which led to me getting diagnosed with Autism. So that was the game changer school no longer had to be a struggle, dull or have unwanted social interactions with people. School was going to be on my terms, filled with fun and engaging topics, and surrounded by caring and mature students/teachers. I first started with homeschooling where I self taught myself a couple of subjects. Then I added a few dual credit college classes where I actually got to go on campus and embrace a welcoming environment with other students who also have passions for learning. I took off the pressures of fitting in because I know I am weird and I own it. I don’t always have to get A’s and stress myself a lot because I can ask for help and be satisfied with a passing grade. Accommodating to my Autism is one of the best changes in my life and I feel like anyone with any disability or difference should be accommodated to. I wouldn’t wish my years of hardship on trying to fit in on anyone.  Everyone deserves a learning environment in which they can thrive and succeed. For me it was at home and sometimes on a college campus but it can look different for you and that’s ok too. There’s nothing wrong with being different or weird, just be your own unique self.

Abigail Rivera
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