Living with autism

Photo by Anibal Ortiz

Some people live in their own reality, oblivious to the world around them. Others find it impossible to stay still, so they fidget uncontrollably. And then there are those who have moderate to severe behavioral issues.

You might think I’m describing everyday regular people, but I’m actually describing autism. I’m describing myself, a person on the autism spectrum.

I have some of the issues listed above. God knows I can’t seem to stand still while waiting for a bus. With the way I pace, you might think I’m at my wits end. I might get looks — I don’t know. I’m never paying attention to what or who everyone else is looking at.

I remember when I was younger, I had friends — or thought I did. In junior high school, one by one, they all turned on me. I’ve had issues trusting people ever since, thinking that if I begin trusting people outside my own family, they might betray or abandon me. Eventually I lose contact with them in one way or another with few exceptions.

My so-called friends stopped hanging out with me at school or after school. They laughed at me when I wagged my pen or pencil between my fingers, which I still do when I’m holding one, because I couldn’t stay still. They would make fun of the fact that I walk with a limp, which is caused by having cerebral palsy, and they would even stick their feet out in front of me to see if I’d fall. The kids also made fun of my upper lip by using their fingers to pull theirs up.

Then there’s the fact that when these kids talked to me, they tried to mimic my voice and then laughed when I became agitated. I can’t help it if I have a speech impediment.

Still, to their credit, they never tried to get me to do stupid things like eating dog food, which, unfortunately, I’ve heard does happen in schools.

I’m not ashamed to admit I have behavioral issues. Even at 33 years old, I still quit video games in a rage. I yell at them when they don’t go my way. A couple of my controllers are even cracked from slamming them on the carpeted floor. I’m still a gamer because I love gaming, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything, even when I rage.

Though I still explode sometimes, I’m getting better at managing my anger and I’m proud of the fact that I’ve always kept my anger in check around someone I’m dating.

Speaking of dating, I’ve never understood how to flirt. I can smile and wink, and even let the girl know I’m interested, but I just can’t figure out how to play “hard to get.” I guess you can chalk that up to the fact that I struggle with my social skills and the fact that I feel awkward in these situations.

I mean, unlike some people on the spectrum, I can grasp complex emotions. Dr. Temple Grandin, who is also on the spectrum and is professor of animal science at Colorado University, has said in the past that she never got married because she can’t grasp complex emotions like love. I, on the other hand, can. I’ve loved, lost and loved again.

Grandin, who has published books on the subject of autism, thinks in terms of pictures, rather than language, another common trait of autism. Last year, when I saw her biopic, I realized I’m the same way. It never occurred to me, but that’s exactly how I process my thoughts.

A few years ago, I had to move with my family from the city to the country. As a city boy, that was a major change, and change is always something I’ve struggled with. I felt like I was stuck in the boonies, and I couldn’t drive (I still can’t). I couldn’t really go anywhere.

The result of not having transportation was the fact that I couldn’t find a job and got poor grades in the college I was attending. Studying journalism at a campus without journalism classes didn’t help either.

A couple years later, I decided I could no longer handle the boredom of being stuck with no transportation. I just needed to go to a school and have the transportation to get there. So, I asked my parents to let me move back to Orange County.

My family was insistent that I’d never be able to live on my own because they thought I wouldn’t be able to survive.

My mom’s former bookkeeper was working for someone who owned group homes, so my mom sent me to live there. While the home was considered a “Level 2” home, meaning it had less restrictions than most group homes because my housemates and I were high functioning, I still couldn’t be home without a supervisor there.

A couple years after I moved in, the bookkeeper moved in as the house mother. While we were mostly able to be around each other when I was growing up, we fought constantly after she moved in.

I would tell her I had plans, so she would make her own. When my plans fell through, I wanted to be home. She would never cancel her plans and I was stuck doing my own thing.

It wasn’t long before I started begging my family to let me move into an apartment. I turned to the Regional Center of Orange County, which helped find me a supported living vendor. The vendor talked to my family members, telling them what he could do to help me better take care of myself. He then helped me find an apartment and a roommate.

Since that time, I graduated from Saddleback College with an associate in arts degree in journalism. Now, I’m almost done with Cal State Fullerton, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism while looking for an internship, preferably with an organization like Autism Speaks.

I plan to use my experiences in my professional career. I love the idea of helping spread awareness, and that’s the point of this story that I’m writing in honor of Autism Awareness Month, sitting here wearing my blue Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) shirt because it’s Wear Blue Day.

Doing what I can to reach out and spread awareness is exactly what I want to do.

About Richard Anderson