When I was growing up, I learned early that I was not like other kids.
I did not like the same things they did, did not want to engage in the same activities. They loved to play together and I could not wait to be alone. It wasn’t that they were bad or anything, they were just too loud, they wanted to touch me far too often and ask me too many questions I didn’t want to answer.
Back then, they just called me retarded.
My senses were superhumanly acute and still are. Lights are too bright, sounds too loud. My senses overwhelmed my mind and basically left me stunned for seconds after any sensory assault. I could hear the arguments my mother and father had through both doors, even across the house.
They assumed I could not hear them.
He hated me for being so different. Not at all what he expected. I wasn’t going to be a football player, or able to play any kind of sports. I would be lucky if I could cross the room without falling down. He said it far too regularly.
I hated him for it.
I could hear conversations between my mother and my teachers about my appearance of retardation and the limits of the educational system to effectively help me to develop. I could smell the terrible perfume my school principle wore that left a trail to me for hours after she had past by.
I could smell it for hours.
It overwhelmed me and left me dizzy and nauseous. People would think I was crazy if a highly perfumed person would walk by and I would be frozen like a deer in the headlights. I also remember the smell of my third grade teacher, Mrs. Levy. There was something about her scent that focused my attention and reduced my stress levels. I later learned it was lavender and jasmine scents that did not overwhelm my senses or my mind.
My sense of taste was one of the worst, it was so sensitive I couldn’t stand to eat.
Bitter things tasted like batteries, sour things felt as if my tongue was being set on fire. Half the time, the smell of food made me want to throw up, but other times, the taste of some food was so good, I could not stop eating, even if I wanted to.
I did note that some of the foods that provoked such a strong reaction I was deathly allergic to, such as crab and lobster. To this day, I barely touch them no matter how delicious everyone around me tells me they are. I craved the taste of salt. Nothing was ever too salty for me. Salt and vinegar ships were my secret craving for almost two decades until I learned how dangerous sodium was.
I was especially susceptible to sweets.
Sugar felt like an explosion in my mouth and it made my entire body tingle for minutes. Even as an adult I have to monitor my sugar intake because I still have a strong reaction to anything sweetened. Strangely enough, artificial sugars make me sick as a dog. I can taste them in a single mouthful of anything.
I could hear things in my head and I realized I was the only one hearing them.
I could hear the radio that was playing in the car on my way to school. I could hear every song, every commercial, for the entire period we rode to school. Fortunately, the entire trip only took ten minutes because for the rest of the day, I could hear that same ten minutes over and over again, blocking out all other interactions with people unless they were annoyingly persistent.
Most people thought I could not hear them. They were right, I didn’t. All I could hear was that ten minutes in the car. Gradually it would fade, unless something reinforced it. Of course, this included itself. So the longer I listened, the longer it persisted.
I didn’t just hear the music, I could see it.
I could see the different pieces playing in the band and each piece was a separate sound, soundtrack, each having its own pattern. I could isolate that sound and only hear it, if I wanted to. As a child, I was compelled to tear sounds, particularly music apart because of its structural complexity.
By the time I was in the sixth grade, I was reading at a college level. My mind suddenly exploded with a desire for information. My math skills also shot up to a twelth grade level. I was allowed to skip two grades in school because there was nothing they could teach me and I had no social skills anyway so it was just as well. Then they called me gifted because my mind and senses had come together in a powerful manner.
But I still couldn’t talk to anyone.
Conversation worked the same way, I could hear everything people said and what they didn’t say. The funny part is autistic people are not supposed to understand what people are meaning when they speak. While that may be true for some of us, I figured out what it meant for me.
I learned: What people say and what people mean are not the same thing.
I can’t always hear what you say. But I am aware of what you mean on the inside, the subtext, the lies. See, that is the problem for me. I don’t lie. I assumed growing up, everyone was like me. That is what causes the cognitive dissonance when some autistics talk to you. They are telling you what they mean, they assume you are doing the same.
But I learned you don’t.
You never say what you mean. You never tell the truth, because this society does not reward the truth. Your society is built on lies. So if you are to survive, you learn to lie. And you are so adept, it is so ingrained, you never think that anyone can see you or hear you or know that you are doing it.
You are wrong. We see you. We feel you. It hurts us. Stop doing it. But we know you won’t.
Today they call me autistic.
I learned to live with you. I learned not to stim in public. I hide my idiosyncratic behavior behind other acceptable behaviors. I still stim to help me cope, it just looks like something else.
I learned to eat the right foods, I learned to darken my home, reduce my lights. I learned to reduce my stimulation. I learned to regulate my music. I learned to wear close-fitting clothing that soothed my need to be touched but not by people I couldn’t trust. I learned to drive.
I learned how my superior memory (a burden as a child) could aid me at my job. I became a font of knowledge about what I do. I learned to trust my instincts about the things that came natural to me.
I learned to love myself because I was still important, even if no one understood me.
I found a career, even if I didn’t go to college, because I could not stand the lighting or the crowds, or the desks or the rude students and even ruder teachers, I still used my powers, to excel at my job; with ease.
Yes, to me they seem like powers, the things I can do.
I don’t lie to people. I have no need. I have no fear of false authority, I will find a way to do what needs to be done. I can hear things across an auditorium, I can tell when people lie to me, I can tell when there are artificial chemicals in my food, I can read a paperback in an hour and retain it for a decade, I can repeat anything I heard for in the last hour for a month. I can watch a movie and remember it forever. I can synthesize information from a number of different sources, at the same time and utilize them in new ways. I can store variables in my head and juggle them like oranges.
No, I may not be the most graceful, or the most beautiful, but what have you done with your gifts? Squandered them on reality television, alcholic binges, drug addictions, strange vanities, political parties that cater only to their wealthy masters. You have forgotten each other. You are losing your ability to adapt and create.
Creation and adaptation is a natural thing for me. To live with you, I had to learn them.
The future of the world lies in the creation of new ideas. I’ve created new ways of doing things, you could not see, out of things you could not even imagine.
I succeed where you say its impossible.
I made relationships with people who were different from me and likely from you. Not all of us can do the things I can do. But many can. And some can do things, even I am amazed at. But your world has been changed by us. We existed before now and likely much of what you use as innovation came from someone like me.
You know who you are. Those people who think there is something about me that needs curing. Those people who hold on to the idea that you are superior to us.
The truth is more terrible for you.
Ultimately, the things I can do, make me the future of this planet. And with my powers harnessed, you will be unable to stop me. There are more and more of us everyday. And we will learn to harness our powers, in time.
You are being replaced.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Autism’s Arrow © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved