As a Speech Language Pathologist, I celebrate communication, self expression and neurodiversity. I write quite a bit about RPM and the words of my clients. This week, I want to share the words of one of my speaking clients with Aspergers. I have worked with this young man, S, for the past several years. He is incredibly smart, kind, insightful, with a dry sense of humor that cracks me up! I absolutely adore him! Now, S is in the process of applying to colleges and has graciously consented to let me share his words.
“I am not like everyone else. I am unique and I believe my life thus far has made me this way. I’ve lived more years overseas than in America. I lived in Poland for the first three years of my life, and South Korea for seven; almost 60 percent of my life. My parents’ jobs with the government requires them to live in such places. While we were in Korea, they often hauled me off to visit various southeast Asian countries. I could say that I expanded my cultural worldview, or broadened my horizons, but in reality, I was young and not too interested. But on some level I think the years of living abroad and all the trips to places like Cambodia and Sri Lanka have given me an international perspective most Americans never develop.
But that’s not really the story of my world. That story begins with a little boy hiding under a table, overwhelmed by the world. At that age, I may have known I had Asperger’s, but I didn’t understand what it meant. Even so, I knew I was different. When I was in seventh grade, I would fantasize about how someday I would become wildly successful. The rest of mankind, with their silly “small talk,” and “friendships,” wouldn’t stand a chance against me.
At some point, I realized I was letting the world pass me by. I didn’t slip through the cracks. I sought out the cracks and crawled into them so I didn’t have to stand in the open. But then, something happened. I went into a program for students with Asperger’s at my high school, and the world opened up to me. In my sophomore year, I never said hello to anyone when I walked in the room. In my junior year, I did. It took a long time, but now it’s a habit. In my freshman year, I never talked to my teachers. If I needed information, I did without it. The next year, I needed to ask for advice, or I wouldn’t have gotten my science project done. So I did. I started talking to people and I learned about opportunities in my community. Now, I’m tutoring other autistic people in math. Over time, with a lot of help and effort, I was able to grow into a leader among my peers, and through my newborn tenacity, I’ve revealed an entirely new side of myself.
I sometimes see people with Asperger’s who have learned how to be exactly like everyone else. They talk in the hallway. They go to parties. I know I’ll never be one of those people, and on some level I don’t want to be. But to live in the water, I need to learn to swim. And I have.”
I am drawn to S’s analogy of swimming. Schooling fish are usually the same species, age and size; spaced and moving with precision. Shoaling fish relate to each other loosely, including a diverse population of fish moving in the same general direction in their own way. So, even fish know there is more than one way to move forward! S has become exactly the young man he wants to be. He is comfortable with who he is and has tackled the goals of his choosing with grace and tenacity. Currently, he has befriended two of my high school clients who communicate via RPM. He has learned to use the letter/number boards and is teaching them algebra and pre-calculus (but that’s a story for another day)! Any college he attends will be fortunate to have S as a student. I look forward to watching all that he will achieve! ~Elizabeth