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“I always knew I was wired differently”:

Empowering Spectrum Identities through Transcending

I always knew I was wired differently but I did not know the cause
and
I couldn’t sort through my immediate confusion regarding it, to
arrive
at any answers or even at any hypotheses.

For example, I’ve been socially naïve and without the ability to
understand and thus participate in, common social rituals. I’ve
always had a profound dedication to the study of writing. It
began with strong interests in complex or abstract themes as a
child, and I wrote poetry throughout my life. I wanted to be a
philosopher for a brief spell as a teenager. I went to the library to
pick up Aristotle. Though I was disappointed by what I thought
must have been a false lead, I read Aristotle’s natural philosophy.
I didn’t find what I was looking for in it: a way to approach
thought itself and figure out its contents in order to solve the
nagging questions I felt every night before bed, as I stared at the
ceiling trying to figure out the
meaning and purpose of my overwhelmingly enormous mental
processes.

Being from a large family with so many personalities and options


to interact with, I was very much at ease at home. While I
enjoyed structured activities in school, I tired and needed to nap
once arriving home, eating the snacks my mother prepared for
me, and then “veging” out or napping through the late afternoon.

Difficulty arose for me in the context of the classroom and the


general environment. For example, teasing of any kind between
people or threatened violence, respectively, caused me
tremendous emotional upheaval and fear of conflict.

In school, I was happy for I understood and excelled. My 5th


grade teacher sought ways to challenge me. My 6th grade teacher
gave me the authority to leave class at any time, and the
freedom to leave classes was extended to me throughout middle
and high school. Academic work came readily and rapidly to me.

I flourished through the efforts of my teachers to guide me along


with
my abilities toward expressing my potential. The only opportunity
I had for formal intervention was when I was identified for speech
therapy. I enjoyed speech therapy because I had the dedicated
attention of a therapist, the room we worked in was small and
comfortable, and she was a very dedicated and effective
therapist. I felt I was special. I quickly remedied the lisp that
qualified me for speech therapy for I have the ability to mimic
"normal" behaviors. However, that ability has diminished with
age. While this opportunity was positive, the fact was that the
means by which they school may have been able to identify my
underlying differences, were limited. Thus I would go decades
with my private sense of non-belonging,
emotional disabilities, pervasive depressive episodes, and an
increasing sense of restlessness concerning the rights of people
facing barriers to full inclusion in education and beyond
education.

In my case, my quest for answers was complicated by other


adjustment
difficulties leading to a desire to change what was amiss. Being
on
the spectrum brings along other features such as cognitive
dissonance,
depression, disassociation, affective disorders. But it also gives
me
a verbal ability that goes beyond the range of “normal.” Without
preparation, for example on SAT’s and GRE’s, I complete most
questions
accurately. My GRE score some years back was about 95%
without study. Had I studied, I might have scored higher.

My verbal ability while strong puts me into an odd bind. I can


amass
many verbal details, patterns, themes, and sources. But
articulation
is considerably more difficult. Still and all, I hold a PhD in English
and publish my writings of all genres including poetry, prose,
scholarship, journalism, etc.

I am ill at ease in the conventions of social norms regarding


rituals, holidays, gender norms, small and idle chatter, and etc.
What has most
mattered to me despite the difficulties, has been the ability to
find cultural connections built of love of art and the humanities.

I have taken risks, small and large, to intervene in bullying on


many levels: adult to child, teacher to student, cliques to
individuals, to prejudice and bias in general. At the same time,
I’ve often been treated with incredible sympathy, compassion,
support, and offered adjustments as I needed them. Sometimes,
receiving accommodations triggers my worry
concerning my need to be as independent in all I do as possible.
At
other times, I cave into self-pity over the vexing challenges to
being my
own person and accessing official understanding of disability
rights.

By far my identification with others who possess disabilities, is


the
strongest form of emotional affirmation concerning who I am. For
example, other disabled or ill people seek me out through eye
contact in busy public places, for friendships, and as a
teacher/mentor/advocate/activist.

There are many memories of realization of my autistic nature


such as
when my mother found me crying in agony in my playpen for I’d
wrapped
my finger in its webbing and twirled and twisted it up so tight,
she
had to cut it off my finger. I was also very fond of spinning
threads
or even my own long hair strands around and around and around
my
fingers in school when bored by the work. Spinning fibers around
my
fingers eventually taught me to view my finger tips as the way to
encode my life through writing and rapid typing.

I recall a life-altering experience of intense identification with


Rita, an institutionalized woman at a hospital for developmentally
disabled individuals where I worked as a teen. Rita did not
possess the abilities of verbal communication, vision, or hearing. I
believe she may have also been autistic. Entering her room and
without hesitation, I sensed something was wrong with Rita. She
and I could not speak, and yet I felt certain she was
communicating with me. I heard a voice that had no sound signal
pain and distress. I immediately approached her as if by silent
command and proceeded to check her diaper. I discovered that
she was suffering from fecal impaction. I went to the nurse to
report that something was amiss with her elimination. The nurse
commended me and told me that had I not realized something
was wrong with Rita, she could have rapidly worsened.
For Rita did not have the ability to communicate with others.

She then assigned me the task of helping her to relieve Rita’s


impaction
through the use of an enema. I was about 17 years old, I guess.
And though it was a rather difficult procedure, I carried out the
task with the nurse to my best ability. Rita was relieved, and so
was I.

Yet, what was the certain connection I felt toward her that
allowed me to detect her condition? To this day more than 20
years later, I believe that while I may not have been diagnosed,
she and I had similar brainwaves or neural feelings. How to
explain it? I can’t.

Once I received my own doctoral hood and began teaching and


fulfilling
my calling to assist others with writing in University writing
courses, I became more and more aware of the range and
frequency of disabilities in college and University settings.

There is a great deal more that I can say on this topic, but for the
purposes of this testimony I restrict myself to one goal, which is
to explore my formation of an empowered disability identity
through compatibility with others who experience symptoms or
features of disability. In sum, I wish to stress that identity
formation is key for success, independence, and advocacy.