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.