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Tuesday 21 Nov 2017

The “Higher Functioning” path – by Jenni

This is my story about being a woman with Asperger’s Disorder. I always knew I was different somehow, as all little kids can tell when something is different, but nobody knew what exactly it was. Before 2nd grade, I was just some odd kid who could read above grade level and had some fears of really loud noises (The reason I HATED the bathroom).

It was after second grade that the others seemed to discover that it would hurt to tease me. That quickly turned into physical bullying, and before long, I was that oddball kid who hated the bathrooms and whose parents were constantly trying to figure out where the majority of the bruising was coming from. It only tapered off physically when the others realized they could control me with head games. No matter what anybody said about “Bullies get in trouble” or “Ignore them” or any other piece of advice, nothing worked. When the Zero Tolerance Policies came into effect, it was even harder. My peers would threaten me, and I’d tell them that if they made me, I would defend myself, which is apparently more of a threat than “We hate you and we’re going to get you one day”.

Depression was nothing new by Grade 7, and I had already gotten to the point of “Let me out of life!”. When my Grandfather passed, someone thought it was finally time I see a psychiatrist. The psychometrists from the school also noticed something strange in grade 6, and needed it confirmed. Sure enough, after a few sessions, it was determined I have Asperger’s Syndrome. At the time, I was fighting so hard against it, as the diagnostician had said “This is a fake disorder that you only barely may fill. We’re diagnosing you only to get you assistance in school. You don’t really have this.”

After that, the amount of drugs that were pushed on me by the doctors was insane. At the time, I was supposed to be on about 6 different meds ranging from anti-psychotics to anti-anxiety to anti-depressants, and on and on. After a few weeks, I couldn’t take the medication any more (It had become a very tense point between my mother and I) and I refused any further medication, much to my doctor’s confusion. If I had not met the high school psychologists in Gr. 9, as well as a very helpful EA (though I didn’t know it at the time) I would probably be medicated and living in a basement somewhere (and not in a good way).

It took me a long time to begin to trust the EA, who appeared at first to be “that annoying woman who’s breathing down my neck”. When I finally figured out who she was and what she did, I slowly began to trust her, and I remember finally getting some much needed support for once. The psychologist had overseen my psychometrist in public school, and had interviewed me once when he heard about the findings, and lo and behold, there he was again. He listened patiently as I ranted about “this stupid diagnosis”, then promptly returned his feedback of “How Aspergers of you.” It was through him pointing out that there was more to it than the original diagnostician realized that I finally began to accept that it wasn’t like a cold or something, it was who I was from birth, as vital to me as my blood, it just had a name and description.

After understanding that and getting more familiar with it, things made sense, and I realized that there needed to be more support. When I moved on to college…. well, I realized there was support… just not for me. All of the services I encountered were either not for people on the Spectrum, because there was already a similar service provided to those in Autism Support Programs, OR “You’re too high-functioning”. I began to see that while I had these amazing gifts from Aspergers, there was also the downside of the “High-Functioning Myth”, where professionals don’t seem to think we need any support at all. It’s even harder when most of your life you’ve been taught to hide your weaknesses, then because you hide it so well, nobody knows you need help, least of all yourself.

I ended up going from several support people who waved as I left to two people going “Ok, so go get services. We can’t handle that here.” Wandering though that mess and all the drama of college (and a few things a bit more severe), I ended up with… 1 supportive person, and 1 Learning Strategist. The support person, who I still believe is owed a great amount of backpay for psychological services that he had to deal with, is my partner (from another country no less!) and the learning strategist ended up going above and beyond her role to get me the support I needed, recognizing that for persons on the Spectrum, school isn’t separate from personal and finance.

After a year longer than I thought, I finally graduated one program and went on to attempt the Autism and Behavioural Sciences Post-Graduate course, thinking “Hey, I can NAIL this. I’m a walking cheat-sheet for some parts.” HAHAHAHAHA. Nope. Was back to searching for services AGAIN, as “No, we don’t do that here” was repeated, and got thrown into a course that kept forgetting I had Autism. Well, except for when they were telling me to keep my mouth shut about my opinions “But we would like to see more input from you!”, whatever that meant. It was pretty hard (and I only BARELY scraped through on “Introduction to the Autism Spectrum”), and in the end… I failed.

The support services I had did everything they could, but no, I apparently, according to these teachers, can’t support someone on the Spectrum. This kind of stuff seems to be unfortunately what I will have to get used to, as everyone focuses on the cute kids and the severest adults. It’s less the lack of services and more the lack of kindness and understanding from those around me, which makes failing the course even sadder when I had to keep reminding the teachers that I was on the spectrum, and they kept forgetting. In spite of this, I hope to eventually create a service for “Higher-Functioning” individuals (teens and adults) that makes the support they need available.

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