We are scarred, we adults on the spectrum.
We are scarred, both inside and out.
Our lives are twisted paths littered with diagnoses.
We have fought for years to get to where we are now, and still it
isn’t good enough.
We are scarred.
We went to schools where there was no help. Sometimes
we were shunted into special education rooms, or to the
behavior-problems division. There we were taught that we were ‘stupid,’
‘retarded,’ that we would never amount to anything. We were accused of
cheating when we read so well but couldn’t write an essay, drew
complex diagrams yet failed math. We were denied entry into
higher-level classes because we didn’t appear to be smart or
participating in class, and our minds thirsted in vain for more knowledge.
We went to therapies, all sorts of therapies. Look at
this ink blot, what do you see? I see an ink blot. Hours and hours
with workbooks and little faces — this is what sad looks like, can you
look sad? No, you are wrong, that is not what sad looks like. It
does not matter what sad looks like to you, it matters only what it
looks like to others.
You are avoiding the subject, the therapists say, over
and over, you only want to talk about dogs and not your real issues.
Why do you have such a problem with authority? Why are you so rude on
purpose? Why do you like making people mad? Your whole family is in
a shambles and it is all your fault.
It was all our fault — our grades, our trips to the
office, our parents divorce, our mother’s stress, our messy house. We
didn’t know why, but it was all our fault, and the burden grew heavier
as each year grew and we tried for independence and failed yet again.
We were drugged. Oh, we were drugged to the heavens.
Every last tranquilizer that’s ever been known to man. Early SSRIs,
late SSRIs. We gained weight, lost it, became hyperactive, slept all
day, and still they kept changing them, trying to find the magic pill.
They never understood why our bodies reacted so differently to
medications than others’ bodies did. They didn’t understand that our
autism, even if they did call it that, wasn’t just in our brains, it
is in our whole bodies, and that people on the spectrum have the
distinctive tendency to react in unique ways to everything.
We were teased, taunted, bullied, punished. Verbal
abuse was routine. We learned that we were Other very young, and that
Other was bad. We started thinking about suicide before we knew what
the word was. We kept swimming as hard as we could, but it seemed
like it would be so much easier to just give up and let ourselves
drown. The waves were always over our heads, always crashing down on
any small gains we made.
Autistics on a whole have long memories. Too long. We
remember standing in the fifth-grade lunch line and feeling that the
world was crashing down. We remember running through the
middle-school hallways and trying to avoid getting kicked. Our
post-traumatic stress disorder, so common as to be almost routine in
adults, wasn’t caused by any specific incident. It was caused by
life, life itself, the endless routine of falling down and getting up
and trying again only to fail again.
We are used to ignoring our own bodies. “These carrots
are too spicy” we complained as a child, only to be told no, they were
sweet, that the music wasn’t too loud, nobody can hear lights, what
you are experiencing is invalid. We heard: you are invalid. You do
not experience the world the same way as everyone else, and therefore,
your experience is wrong. You learn to ignore the ever-present pain
because nothing can be done about it, but then you have a kidney
infection and others get mad at you for not noticing sooner. But why
should you trust your body when it is always wrong?
We are scarred, and you who say we look so young, I
remind you that we are old, and we are scarred, and we are delicate.
We are prone to breakage. Anger, even the slightest bit of it, scares
us because in the past, misinterpreting anger led to yelling and
violence and punishments. We are prone to apologies for things we did
not do, for whatever it was, in our past it was usually our fault.
They say that what doesn’t kill you, makes you
stronger. If so, we are forged of steel and iron. We can deal with
whatever life throws at us, we are used to managing on our own, but
dammit, it is so hard sometimes. It is so hard trying and pretending
and figuring things out all the time. It takes years of effort to
understand, logically if not emotionally, that we are not stupid, we
are not invalid, we have just as much a right to be accepted and loved
as anyone else.
Yet even so, when we reach that point, even then we are
You make an offhand remark, but it builds upon decades
of insults and innuendos. You make a reference, and our minds go
spinning backwards and we are re-living something that we wish we
could forget. You say that we don’t seem autistic, and we want to
weep, because maybe if we had learned to not be autistic sooner in our
lives, we wouldn’t be so scarred.