I first heard the word in my 1st grade class. There was a boy named Edgar. He had a bowl cut and often wore purple turtlenecks, and whenever another student asked what was wrong with him, the teacher would respond with, “Edgar is autistic.” None of us knew what that meant of course, but that’s what they told us.
I heard it again when I was about 12. I was at the public pool and I was sitting on the rim talking to an older woman who was there with her son who was maybe 4 or 5. She was telling me about how he loved this show on PBS because of the characters and the bright colors, and that’s when she said it, “See, he’s autistic”. Again with that word. Still no context for what it meant even then, but I knew it meant ‘different’.
I heard it again in 8th grade when, despite my glaring social and academic problems, I was still in regular classes and sometimes we’d see these kids from the “Special Education” classroom walk by. Often the other kids would snicker, point at them, call them “retarded”. The teacher would respond, “They’re autistic, be nice.” Now I was learning it was bad to be this thing.
I would hear this word crop up time and time again, but while I knew that my teachers were having meetings with my mom and stepdad, I never knew that they were using that word in reference to me. I am a girl. We present differently. Sure, I hid under desks in classrooms and I cried and hit myself and I memorized entire books and movies and I had no interest in forming “friendships”, but I didn’t know that was what that word meant, nor that they were trying to pin it on me. My mother wouldn’t have it. She swore up and down she knew what “mentally challenged” kids were like, and that I was NOT one of them.
Only in the last 3 years have I come to start to accept it as what I am. Doctors told her, teachers told her, other parents told her, and yet no, I had to be “normal”. So they kept me out of classes that could’ve helped me, they didn’t understand why having tags in my shirts was a terrible thing and why I couldn’t go to places with large crowds, often forcing me into uncomfortable situations and thus making me cry and scream, and then yelling at me for crying and screaming. I did not have a good childhood. I didn’t even have a decent childhood. I had a childhood of being told I was different by everyone except my parents, who told me I was “normal”, so I had no idea what I was. All I knew was that nobody wanted to be my friend, and that was fine by me. I had books. I had stuffed animals. I had myself.
But myself is no longer a viable, nor enjoyable, companion to keep. Now I want to run away from myself every day. I want to unzip my skin like a costume and slip outside of my physical prison and run as far far away as possible. My problems have become easier to deal with now that I understand what those problems ARE. And yet…and yet everything is still too much. Too all the time. I scream internally now because the world doesn’t let you scream out loud. I still hit myself. I am wasted opportunity. I am an example of what you shouldn’t do. I cannot do a single thing on my own and fail day to day life 24/7. I am 100% co-dependent and cannot cook for myself and cannot drive and cannot live on my own.
I became the ugly word they believed it was, because that’s what they made me believe I was, and I hate them every fucking day for it.
I was a little girl. I needed HELP. I needed LOVE. I needed to be told “You are this and this is okay to be”. I still don’t know who I am, except that I am a broken person. That’s all I’ve ever known about myself, is that I’m “wrong”. That’s my identity. Wrong. That’s what I am. Wrong. Wrong.
I’m Maggie. If you like this thing I made, you might like some other things I make, like my depressing webcomic “In Space, No One Can Hear You Cry”, my podcast network “The Feel Bad Network” or my writing over at Medium. You can also find some published work for sale over at my Payhip or support my work at my Patreon! Anything helps & is appreciated, thanks!