A Sidekick's Blog

Different, Not Broken | November 24, 2014

How My Gift Helps Me:

I didn’t want to work in the Inspector’s office, but I aced the exam for it anyway because my gift lets me see things as they are.

Shown a picture of a house and asked, “what color is the roof,” I replied, “This side is green.”

“Why didn’t you just say ‘green?'”

“I don’t see the other side. I reported what I saw.”

Neurotypical (my term for so-called “normal” – not gifted with autism) people apparently have to be taught not to assume a bunch of stuff. I come by it naturally.

I didn’t take the fire inspector job, but my gifts served me very well for thirty years in the fire department, and they serve me well now in some of my college classes while absolutely infuriating me in other ones. The ones where you’re supposed to assume, guess, be intuitive, and fill in the blanks with bits of yourself. I have the benefit of over a half-century of life experience now so I’m actually managing that, but it still absolutely ticks me off as having no value as a learning tool. I seriously could not have earned a college degree right out of high school with no presumptions and prejudices to fill in the blanks with! Waiting 30 years has turned out to be a good thing. But it sure is changing my estimate of the value of a college education. I’m now more convinced than ever that it’s neurotypical people who have something “wrong,” not me! I know that sounds arrogant. I used to care about being accused of arrogance, aloofness, moodiness, blah blah blah. No I guess I’m old enough to just not give a darn. Besides, when I was giving a darn it wasn’t worth all the futile effort it took to be “sociable.”

My gift is not always an advantage, though… the first time a nurse said, “I need to take your vital signs,” I was backing away like, “You leave them right where they are!”

When she finished giggling she explained that she only needs to measure them, not take them.

“That isn’t what you said.”

“You knew what I meant,” she protested.

“No I DIDN’T!” Why don’t people say what they mean!?!”

That’s the first of a zillion and twelve incidents in which my gift has been a confusing disadvantage. I’m really not stupid, it’s just that I rely almost entirely on words to interpret what people say. So when people use words that have multiple meanings, or employ aphorisms that aren’t obvious, I truly have no idea what was said. When others laughed at something said that way, I used to laugh along, trying to fit in. Now I just excuse myself and go find a potted plant to admire or something, rather than put on a fake face and try to “fit in.”

Why Robin Can’t Read:

“Any abnormal symptoms, Robbie?”

First of all how does a kid know what’s “normal” anyway? Normal for me is what I have always experienced. So I answer, “No, Doctor. Nothing abnormal.” A smart nurse asked the question better:

“Robbie, what do you see?”

“The letters are dancing.”

“Dancing? Describe it.”

“They float up off the paper and throw shadows on the page, and they vibrate in keeping with that damn deafening noise!”

“What noise?”

“You don’t hear it?? From the lights! It’s 60 pops a second. I can count them.”

I don’t know what normal is, but I do know that fluorescent light is a freaking stupid choice for a classroom! (This was back in the day that fluorescent lights were a heckuvalot noisier than they are today).

I experimented with colored paper and colored glasses until I found the right combination to calm the noise down a bit. But the best answer was, “Put little Robin by a window and let him use natural light as much as possible.” Heck YEAH! Move me to the seat next to that pretty red-haired girl, that’ll help me concentrate, lol.

Anyway this was 1970-ish, before we knew much about the Spectrum – and when schools were being built with windows like places for kids, instead of without windows like prisons for criminals. So you kids on the autism spectrum be thankful for the progress that research has brought, okay? And know this: You’re NOT BROKEN. You’re just different. That’s not a crime nor a sin, though you may have heard otherwise.


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