September 21, 2008

  • of horses and ACT scores

    Ran into a checkout lady at Walmart last night who I went to high school with.  Wow, this next spring will be 30 years.  If I run into her again I might give her my phone number and say Hey, let's go to the reunion.  I've never been to one, and she's been in another state most of her marriage.  We had lockers next to each other one year.  Not exactly friends, but not enemies.  I was so withdrawn back then that I don't recall a whole lot, but she remembered that I was a 'brain' (in spite of the fact that I was nearly failing high school) and asked if I became a doctor or anything.  Wow.  Would anybody really actually care?  I was surprised.  But she seemed cool about it all.
    On the way home Scott asked me a bunch of questions about high school.  I tested out in the 3rd percentile but still fell through all the cracks because no one knew I had Asperger's, and I was unresponsive and reclusive and didn't have a clue what the testing meant because no one really took the time with me.  They just assumed I was sullen.  Back then I still wasn't able to look at people in the face very well, yet I had a significant attitude problem.  Might be kinda funny going to a reunion and seeing what a few people think of me winding up having been on the autism spectrum all that time.  Explains a lot.
    5 years after high school I retook the ACT to get into college and scored 32 or something, without any coaching or practicing.  That or it was 33 or 34, but I'd rather err on the side of caution.  I pretty much felt like I bumbled my way into college.  Back then I was still so spacey with the Asperger's, wasn't disciplined to focus and connect the dots, and unfortunately wound up getting an advisor that was fired a semester later.  I free floated through most of my degree program, looking at classes like a big smorgasbord.  It took years for me to learn to connect the dots, but I soaked it all in like a sponge along the way.  Scott was aghast last night to find out that I'd scored so high and STILL managed to fall through nearly every crack in the system with no clear direction.  It's funny how long you can live with a person and never realize, eh?  Yes, I'm one of those super smart people.  I'm a few steps away from being Rainman.  (There but for the grace of God go I.)  But because it took me so many years to learn to communicate in this marriage, seriously, it just wasn't evident.
    I don't care any more about test scores, but I remember taking the GRE to get into grad school, and I scored super high on two of the tests and below average on the third.  They nearly didn't let me into grad school because I failed the 'logic' part, but the other two were so high that the two old professors muttering to each other across the room where I couldn't hear actually acted like people do on tv.  Scratched their heads, raised their eyebrows, let out one of those big sighs with puffed cheeks that means *wow*....  I never really understood that I'd outscored almost everyone else there on those two tests.  I still don't know what it all means.  No one has ever sat down with me and explained it.  Yes, I scored high, but what does it ~mean~?  I don't even understand how I understood how to answer the questions.
    Curiously, I went on to learn how to administer psychological testing and write up evaluations in my first masters degree program.  That was the first time someone told me I'm 'unusual'.  One of my teachers had been testing people for 30 years and had never seen anyone like me.  He said if he hadn't met me in person and could see for himself that I'm perfectly mentally healthy, he'd have written me up as schizophrenic, based on the psyche tests alone that we took as we learned to wield them.
    THAT is what it's like living with Asperger's.  That's what it's like being on the autism spectrum.  I managed to break through the barrier of social interaction and communication on my own, without a diagnosis or psychological intervention for many years.  I think more of us manage to do this than is realized.  We *know* stuff.  We can take information and turn it into cool stuff, some of us more on an 'eventually' scale of time.  To some people it might seem useless that we can be so detail oriented, to others we are cool.  But until we learn to verbalize it on a level other people can 'get', some of us fall through a whole lotta cracks.  Until intelligence probability is taken as seriously as social skills when average parents are freaking out that something is wrong with their autistic kids, this world will continue to miss out on some spectacular problem solving opportunities.
    Imagine where I could be with my life if someone had taken my testing seriously enough to spend some quality time helping me and my parents plan out an education and figure out how to get the financing.  I did it all absolutely *on* *my* *own*, because I was socially deficit and fell through the cracks.  I think our public education system is what's deficit.  I think it is set up to fail.  But who am I to say, I was just this weird kid who thought it was funny to get others to cheat off me and flunk tests.  And now I think the burgeoning view the media is generating about 'catching' autism early is creating a public awareness deficit that is turning autism into the next birth defect or environmental witch hunt.
    No, I didn't turn out to be a doctor.  But I'm a good person, a good cook, a good mom, a good wife, and I'm content.  I think the most important thing I have learned in this life is contentment.  If it takes a genius to figure that one out, then there you go.  A few of you out there are completely missing the deeper point to that statement, like be content with who your children are.
    I see a few parents blogging here and there about the difficulties of getting a kid with Asperger's into college and keeping them there, etc.  I had a 5 year break after high school, then went to college on my own, and conquered every obstacle by myself.  When I got out of high school I got a job and got married and got divorced, just like a bunch of people do, then asked myself what I want.  I knew I wanted more than the mundane world around me.  Sooner or later we all figure out where we fit.  If you've got an aspie on your hands, sooner or later they'll crave more input.  They'll figure out sooner or later where their niche is if you quit pushing.
    I compare myself to a horse.  I see that some people handle horses well, others don't.  Horses can be high strung, anxious, rebellious, strong headed, distrusting, and even mean, depending on their experiences in life.  A good handler knows how to get the best out of a horse without having to treat the horse badly.  A good handler understands how the horse's mind works, and acts in a way the horse understands in order to get the behavior he or she wants out of the horse.  I think people on the autism spectrum are a lot like horses.  With good and patient handling, we eventually learn to respond well, but it takes time.  If you've got a horse on your hands that simply responds to all commands on cue without showing any sign of intelligence whatsoever, you've got a 'broken' horse.  That is what aspies turn out to be when they are put through programs trying to 'fix' them and force them to respond to social cues.  When how the horse responds becomes more important than the horse itself, you've got a sad situation on your hands.  Many smart horses are molded into dumb horses because all that is wanted is certain social behaviors out of them.
    Some people brag about being good with animals.  I think it's nice when someone brags about being good with aspies.  Stop grading the behaviors and love the child.  Are you a dog person or a cat person?  I hear it all the time.  There are magazines for horse and bird owners.  There are people who raise odd things like possums and wolves and snakes.  If people could learn to see different personality types the same way they do animals, enjoying what is unique about them, I wonder how much the world would change.  It intrigues me that aspies can behave almost the same way someone's pet does, on a more basic automatic in the moment level, but the aspie is treated worse for it while the pet is loved because it's cute or something.
    Maybe that's why I don't care about test scores.  I'm not cute and lovable because I'm not all furry or scaly or feathery or something, so I see no reason to perform for any other kind of attention.  You know why I'm not a doctor?  Besides having absolutely no moral support whatsoever as a person who wouldn't respond on cue, I thought it would take too long.  Too long for what?  I had no sense of time!  I wound up spending *more* time in college than I would have if I'd gone for a medical degree.  But plain and simple, that was it.  I actually wanted to go into the medical field, and I bet I'd have been pretty good at it, but I had no idea what to expect and how to plan and no one going over it with me.  There you go.  I'm a brain, and I'm not a doctor.  And I could tell you the disdain I have for House.
    So the wild horse went galloping off toward the mountains, untamable and carefree.  And then woke up one year and realized she was a human.

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