• Understanding Autism from the Inside

    “Academics came easily to me. The rest of life—not so much.”
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School was a Minefield

An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…

“She was the last one in school, and the last one out. She made the whole class wait for her every day.” ~ Mom

I was late every day because my alien leaders, the ones that dropped me off at my mother’s house when I was born, didn’t give her an instruction manual—and she was not a fast learner. We continued to struggle over what I would wear, and what I would eat, which was usually nothing. I didn’t sleep well either so I was hard to wake in the morning, but much easier to wake than her.

School nights didn’t mean much in my house; my parents liked to party. My brother and I stayed in their bedroom to go to sleep while aunts, uncles and friends played loud music, drank, smoked, and played cards.

I tried to sleep curled up in a ball under the covers cupping my hands over my ears trying desperately to drown out the noise. The smell of cigarette smoke and beer made mye stomach sick and my eyes tear.

In the morning, navigating the sea of sleeping bodies sprawled out across the living room carpet surrounded by empty beer bottles, and half spilled over ashtrays brought on the vomit. Vomit brought on the screaming.

My screaming was because even then I hated to vomit; although I should have been used to it, and my mother’s screaming because now there was a mess to clean up. Now? There was a mess to begin with! Vomit was hard to get out of mustard-colored shag carpet.

Mornings sucked, school sucked, and we were late. At least I no longer needed to go see Mr. Hiler for a late pass; he was liar.

I was never in a rush; that much is true, but I certainly did not intentionally make the whole class late coming out of school every day—not intentionally.

The end of the school day was always the same.

“Pack your things, and line-up.”

Line-up I had down. I was number three; Toni was number one, Laura was number two, then me, and Shayne was number four. Line-up: check. It was the pack your things part, the part that needed to be done before line-up that was the problem.

My desk was a wreck. The small space inside the metal-framed desk reserved for books was jam packed with my things. Papers were shoved inside, crumbled and torn. Pencils fell to the floor when I pulled on something I thought I needed to pack up, and was followed by an avalanche of debris that scattered across the floor making my head spin.

The mess, the chaos, and the lack of things having their own place made me feel sick. My brain ceased to work; I ceased to respond. I just stood there staring at the mess that I had no idea how to begin to clean up.

“We are not leaving until Jeannie cleans up this mess and packs her things.”

I froze. There is that word again—things.

I made several attempts throughout the year to pack-up my things. All of them were wrong. I never arrived home with any of my textbooks, and couldn’t do my homework. I spend the nights crying because my homework wasn’t done, and the morning being screamed at because my homework wasn’t done.

Going to school without my homework meant writing, I must do my homework, twenty times on the blackboard. I longed for the end of the day; longed to be out of the clutches of the classroom.

“Jeannie, pack up your things,” the dreaded words seemed to echo throughout the room.

The whole class grumbled while I stood there staring blankly at my desk. They knew we were not leaving until I got my things together. The mother’s waiting outside would be angry and grumbling that everyone always had to wait for me.

“If someone doesn’t help Jeannie pack her things, we are going to stay here all day.” Ms. Montouri said.

I didn’t know what to pack.

Shayne, number four, rushed over to help. He helped me shove everything into my book bag, and slung it over his shoulder. Shayne wanted to go home.

From that day on Shayne helped me pack, or rather he packed my things for me. Actually he packed everything, and carried it because then it was heavy and I couldn’t lift it. I had to drag the book bag along, slowly.

When Shayne packed my book bag, I was able to do my homework. He packed the textbooks; I never did. The teacher told me to pack my things. The textbooks did not belong to me; they were not mine. They could never be my things; they were their things.

School work was easy, but navigating the school day without stepping on a landmine was not.

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.