firstgrade

My parents never suspected I had a developmental disorder. I met my milestones and spoke precociously. I behaved well and dazzled their friends with curious observations. My parents not only expected quirkiness, they embraced it.

I certainly had some eccentricities.

I snapped my fingers compulsively and asked ceaseless questions. I made odd noises, could not tell right from left, and was prone to insomnia. I fidgeted and had an intense terror of fans. Adults lectured me on eye contact: “People will think you are lying if you do not look them in the eyes.”

I did not play like other children. Consider my first Barbie. After I ripped her out of her cardboard box, I scrutinized her carefully.

Krunk-krunk-krunk, I bent a jointed knee. Krunk-krunk-krunk, I straightened it. The articulated knees captivated me. The noise they made combined with the novelty of moving parts ignited my curiosity.

I spent one whole day bending and unbending those marvelous knees. I studied her sky blue eyes and twisted her synthetic hair. Barbie was a creation of lovely parts, never a toy person.

I eventually tired of bending her knees and twisting her joints. I returned to my dinosaurs.

I loved dinosaurs. I collected facts on them, memorizing pages about their evolution and physiology. The natural forces that created their unusual anatomy consumed my imaginative world. My mind strung together bits of orderly information on each animal. Just knowing was a warm tight hug, gratifying and reassuring.

My parents chalked my oddness up to a “sensitive disposition” and  a “superior intelligence.” They made no judgments and played to my strengths, feeding my brain with books, microscopes and field trips.

Harmony and peace filled my life.

Then came First Grade.

I never attended preschool or kindergarten, since early education in 1970’s New Mexico belonged primarily to churches. My only group experience with children was one horrid summer swim class.

To prepare me for school, my mother equipped me with adorable dresses. She took me shopping at a specialty boutique. Spending borrowed money, she filled my closet with the loveliest little dresses I have ever seen.

Mom, who grew up in depression-era Ohio, gave me the best sendoff she could imagine. The youngest of eight, she despised her handmade dresses and hand-me-downs. The little girl in her would have relished my frilly dresses decorated with rick rack and stitched ladybugs.

Alas, clothing can make a statement, but not as loud as behavior.

I felt confident on my first day of school, dressed as pretty as a little doll. The social dynamics of elementary school stretched beyond my comprehension. I had no idea of how to behave. My first recess broke my heart.

None of the other girls would play with me. Furthermore, they knew nothing about dinosaurs, geology or Clint Eastwood. I tried to inform them, but no one was interested.

Since the girls ignored me, I sought out the boys. A mass of them played kickball, which I had never seen before. They shooed me away with less finesse.

When Mom picked me up for lunch that first day, I was in tears. She brought me home and fed me tomato soup in a brand new bowl from TG&Y.

She listened sympathetically, with a concerned and sad face. She still sent me back to school. She knew what I was beginning to grasp: I had 12 more years of horrible, horrible school.

My experiences with school life did improve, after I made my first friend.

Comments

  1. “Krunk-krunk-krunk, I bent a jointed knee. Krunk-krunk-krunk, I straightened it. The articulated knees captivated me. The noise they made combined with the novelty of moving parts ignited my curiosity.”

    Ah, yes, those moving joints were wonderful! I didn’t have a Barbie until I was 12, though. I also loved when my little brother’s toy cars had doors that opened and closed, and of course spinning their wheels. I read a lot about tornadoes as a child, drew a lot of pictures, and tried to make up my own languages (but never stuck with one for very long, and never memorized my own words). I went to Catholic school from first through fourth grade, but on my first day of public school, in fifth grade, I wore the cutest little red plaid skirt with white tights. I loved pretty skirts and dresses. I don’t really have anything profound to say – just that I can relate to a lot of what you wrote here 🙂

  2. A Quiet Week says:

    Thank you for sharing. I am glad you could relate to my post. 🙂

    One of the shocks I received when my son went through his diagnosis was that his fascination with the parts of a toy was “not normal.” They presented him with a mechanical hopping bunny and he inspected it to see what made it work, instead of being delighted by the gestalt of the toy. I thought they were insane. The parts that made the bunny hop were infinitely more interesting.

    Hmmm. Nothing profound on my side either. But I would have gladly spent an afternoon spinning wheels with you!

  3. Mados says:

    One of the shocks I received when my son went through his diagnosis was that his fascination with the parts of a toy was “not normal.”

    They presented him with a mechanical hopping bunny and he inspected it to see what made it work, instead of being delighted by the gestalt of the toy. I thought they were insane. The parts that made the bunny hop were infinitely more interesting.

    Yes… I understand why you would think they were insane… it sounds insane to me too. Is investigating a toy and its parts to see how it works ‘not normal’?

    I can see why relentless wheel spinning on a toy car (and never play with it ‘as a car’) would be considered ‘not normal’. The car is designed to create an illusion with the expectation that the kids will embrace and enjoy the illusion. They are supposed to use it as a sort of training ground for adult behaviours and routines. Just spinning the wheels doesn’t provide that, so I can see why that is developmentally problematic.

    But to investigate a toy to see how it works? That seems perfectly normal to me. Some kids look just to the surface of things and like to play in a theatre-like manner all the time, others are little scientists who want to explore and sense in-depth how aspects of the world works. I would have thought both types are perfectly normal, although the first type is the majority (especially amongst girls).

    The more I read about Asperger’s, the more confused I feel about what’s normal! There should be an instruction manual for that (being normal) instead of just having to guess what is normal based on what gets labelled ‘not normal’.

    • A Quiet Week says:

      Mados,

      Thank you for the inquisitive reply and forgive my late response.

      I have a difficult time with the concept of “normal,” since to be beyond normal is “abnormal.” “Abnormal” sounds sinister and unsavory. I like the word “typical” better. The word typical encompasses the majority of people, their life situation, level of happiness, and behavior. “Atypical” would be that quirky aunt, an obsessed scientist, or the sweet bagger at the supermarket with Down’s syndrome.

      Humans are neurologically diverse. Statistically some will be atypical. The distance you are from “normal” is hard to define, but it seems to occur at a rate of 2-5%. One in one hundred is on the autism spectrum. One percent of people experience autism enough to have trouble navigating the neurotypical world.

      That’s me! That’s my husband, father and child. The way that we are put together neurologically makes life challenging at times. My husband and father work for a living, and I worked as well. But that doesn’t make us typical. With Asperger’s, life is rife with struggles–social and emotional.

      Sorting out atypical bits from the typical bits is confusing. But, keep this in mind–autism is a spectrum, a range of behaviors with lots of typical overlap. The autism spectrum is a constellation of pervasive, coinciding symptoms that impact you everyday, all your life. So, in my case and my son’s case too, we don’t care about the doll/bunny as a toy, it is fascinating for the moving part.

      What makes us atypical is our engrossment. I did not say to my self, “Cool knees!” and send Barbie to a fashion show. I spent my play time with her only bending the knees. It is just like the wheel spinning.

      AndTyoma would not have cared to play Peter Rabbit with the bunny. He would have torn it apart to see what made it work. And that is awesome! We need scientists, mathematicians, artists, and musicians! I truly believe that many extraordinary talents fall on the spectrum. And also the occasional middle aged house wife!

      • Mados says:

        Thank you for your good replies Lori:-) and no, it is not late at all.

        I see the point with the barbie knees/bunny/wheel spinning… same thing, you are right.

        I also like the word ‘atypical’ much better than ‘abnormal’. Abnormal does sounds like a deformity, while ‘atypical’ just means ‘different’. To call it something else doesn’t solve my confusion, though. I still struggle to define what’s typical and what isn’t, and where the borders are. I guess they are dynamic anyway, not fixed, and subject of ongoing negotiation.

        Maybe I should return to the discussion later if I ever progress to a less confused stage in regard to this topic!

  4. Mados says:

    I was in Kindergarden as a kid… horribly stressing and noisy place, I think you are lucky you could stay home!

    There was something called ‘the doll corner’ in the corner of the big room where all the kids were. It was a sort of indoor wooden play-construction with rooms and levels, and I thought it looked very attractive. I loved to climb on and through constructions, especially nice wooden ones, and did it all the time when I had the chance. However, ‘the doll corner’ was always occupied by hordes of pretty little girls who played ‘dad, mum and kids’ (e.t.c.) while they talked in a ridiculous theatrical manner.

    ‘The doll corner’ and the clique of girls that hung around there was like a little political organisation (at kinder garden level:-) It had an aura of complicatedness to it, an extreme focus on fictive relationships and was very talkative.

    I suppose they were the ‘most normal’ girls, but I didn’t think they were normal:-) I thought I was normal, and ‘doll corner’ kind of girls were eccentric, artificial and weird, even if they were the majority! (I didn’t actually count them and compare to the rest…) While I was busy with more normal things like reading, looking at pictures, drawing, doing puzzles or constructing with lego or play-mobil.

    • A Quiet Week says:

      You wrote:

      ” I thought I was normal, and ‘doll corner’ kind of girls were eccentric, artificial and weird, even if they were the majority!”

      Ha! I love this quote! I felt the very same way, in fact I still furrow my brow and wonder what is “wrong” with other people! Normal is subjective. I am so pleased to know I am not alone! 🙂

  5. Mados says:

    (‘Reading’ = looking through childrens’ books, knowing the story already … I couldn’t actually read in that age)

    • A Quiet Week says:

      Many folks in our family were early readers. But! It was more of a rote understanding of facts (yay dinosaurs and planets!) than comprehension. It took me years to fathom interpersonal motivations in fiction. Actually, I prefer science books to fiction!

    • A Quiet Week says:

      Yay! I still love dinosaurs and often watch specials on TV. I thrill over the realistic animations and developing research. I am no longer obsessed with dinosaurs, but my affection for them abides! 🙂

  6. Mados says:

    I didn’t read pre-school but learned it so fast when I came in school that the teachers thought I could already read… I was highly motivated, I loved books. I had memorised all the ones I had and could ‘read’ them up for other kids, but I hadn’t actually grasped the alphabet system, just memorised whole words.

    It was more or less all fiction… I was lost in fiction stories about horses, dogs, kids with animals and later science fiction and other fictive universes until I was teenager. Then I stopped reading and have read few fiction books since I was a kid. I would like to take it up again and read fiction in English. I think it is very developing for one’s language, writing style & imagination. However, I struggle to find fiction books that really interest me now, I often feel they use too many words and don’t get to the point but keep walking around it.

    I am surprised that you have such an imaginative, vivid writing style when you prefer non-fiction and presumably haven’t read so much fiction.

  7. Mados says:

    Ehm… that was 4 comments (now 5). I hope you’re coping ok with my long/many comments. I am prone to get carried along when reading inspiring posts and comments (and you author many of that kind) and the volume of my replies may be a bit overwhelming sometimes (*hint* please let me know if that is so…I take feedback very positively).

    • A Quiet Week says:

      I do not feel overwhelmed by your intelligent and interesting comments!

      I do feel overwhelmed by my life as a mother and wife. Sometimes I need a few days to mull things over to formulate a deserving response.

      I am blessed to have a dialogue with you. I rarely talk with others due to anxiety and over-excitement. I cannot imagine a safer forum than online discourse. Ask away! If it takes me a while to answer, just imagine that my son is into indescribable mischief or that the supermarket re-arranged its aisles again! 🙂

      • Mados says:

        Thank you for your nice compliments! and I am happy to hear that my comments are not tiring. I don’t think anything about ‘late’ replies; reflection & response takes its time, naturally… However, I can easily imagine the scene where the supermarket re-arranges the aisles, relieved that the kid is gone:-)

        My life would have been much poorer without the opportunity to interact with interesting people online in writing. There is no chance I would have ‘met’ these people or, if I had, would have communicated so fluently & motivated had the Internet not been available as a communication channel.

  8. love this. I can picture you with your Barbie. I beheaded mine and buried it in the dirt during my pirate hunts for worms with my dog. 🙂

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