• Understanding Autism from the Inside

    “Academics came easily to me. The rest of life—not so much.”
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What I learned from being punished in school

Sights, Sounds, and Asperger’s:

Autism difficulties in school

What I learned from sitting in the hallways at school.

I came across this post today on Parenting with Asperger’s Syndrome, Reasons Why Your Child Might Meltdown atSchool , and it got me thinking.
Since I‘ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome(AS), which many of you already knowing was only recently (earlier this year at 38 years old), I have been trying to look back on my life through a different set of lenses.  Looking through a pair of eyes who now has an explaination for the thing no one could explain properly has made me start to wonder why I do not have that many memories of school.
I am sure they are suppressed somewhere deep within my subconscious brain.  It would make sense that school was such a painful experience that I would block out the memories, but I now wonder if it isn’t something more.
The grades I remember the most were second and seventh grades.  Now that is a big distance between the two.  This is not to say that I don’t have sporadic memories of other grades and events; I do.  But—not the same way I remember these two.
Second and Seventh grades had one thing in particular in common; Both years I had teachers who “dealt” with me by making sit at my desk alone in the hallway outside the classroom.  I loved it out there.  I can remember even in the second grade waiting (impatiently) to be sent outside.  After all, I knew it was coming; it was only a matter of time.

Before Asperger’s Syndrome was an Official Diagnosis

When I was in grade school, before Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) was an available diagnosis in the U.S. (AS became an official diagnosis in the DSM-IV in 1994), I could not be considered autistic.  Back then, in order for doctors to consider autism the child had to have a below average IQ and be practically non-verbal.  No one else fit their “idea” of what autism could be.  Therefore, I was just sensitive, spoiled, “too smart for my own good”, The Princess and the Pea, hard-headed, sassy, obnoxious…and the list goes on.
All these things equaled—sitting in the hallway.  I still remember my favorite “offense.” It was when I was sent to the hallway for correcting the teacher, and made to write 100 times, “I will not correct my teacher in front of the class.”  Well, dang it if the teacher didn’t need so much correcting, then maybe I would have stopped correcting her in front of the class!
To this day, I still don’t understand being punished for being right, and pointing out her misspellings, mistaken facts, and the list of other “mistakes” she made throughout the day.  She should have been grateful to learn something and to correct the incorrectthings she was teaching her second graders.  So, now you see why I spent most of my days out in the dimly lit, muted green and grey hallways of my NYC elementary school.
After reading Parenting with Asperger’s Syndrome’s lovely description of all the things that rush at our children at once in the classroom that can overload their senses and cause meltdowns, I wonder if it also affected my memories of those situations.  Or if in some way I withdrew so far into myself (something I now consciously do to block out the world and try to avoid meltdown) that I cannot recall my surrounds at the time.
Maybe my love for my seat in the hallway was in part that I was able to regain a degree of control over my surroundings.  By being put out of the classroom, I was also allowed to escape all the stimuli.  The hallway was dark without those damned florescent lights flickering, humming, and giving me headaches so I was able to sit without my thick, round, tinted prescription sunglasses that I had to wear during class.  (Now that wasn’t something the other kids got to make fun of me about, was is?)
The hallway was usually deserted and quiet.  Although I could hear the teacher in the classroom teaching and retained the information she taught. It was peaceful so I could concentrate better on her words and absorb the lesson.

Are those with Asperger’s Syndrome affected by colors?

The colors were probably a big contributing factor as well.  I have read that those muted greens, greys and tans are being or have been taken out of the schools in favor of more lively and vibrant colored surroundings.  In fact, my son’s school’s hallways are brilliantly filled with painted murals or dinosaurs, fish, and sign posts. I love walking through them. It has a very cheery feel, but I would not be able to learn anything in that environment because it is too stimulating.
Greens, greys and tans are basically subduing colors; they are the colors used in our prison systems designed to keep inmates calm and subdued.   The walls of the prisons are cinderblock grey, with muted green floors, and the jumpsuits wore a desert tan. Nothing vibrant whatsoever exists—it’s interesting how that is just like my schools growing up.
Painting the school the color of prisons is a terrible way to create a learning environment for most children, but for me those colors seemed to have sooth and calmed me.  It was not because I like the bleak coloring, but because the onslaught of sights, sounds, and bright colors from the classroom and other children’s attire had stopped. I actually love color on my walls at home, especially greens and browns.  My dining room is painted a Mediterranean red. But I each room has one color scheme and I cannot keep pastels or too many bright colors in any one room at a time.
Thinking back to school I find it interesting that no one cared if having me sit in the hallway interfered with my learning during the day.  They were more interested in my not interrupting or correcting the teacher than in my education; it still makes me angry when I think about it.  But the truth is that those were probably the only two grades that I actually feel like I learned anything, and it was probably because I was able to sit by myself and listen in peace.  Did they ever realize that I was instantly calm and not disruptive once I was outside the classroom?

 

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.