Throughout our lives, we encounter difficult situations. Sometimes, conflict may lead to exclusion, anguish, and, over time, a long-lasting feeling of self-doubt
While some challenges are short-term, others will last you a lifetime.
One day, on a clear September afternoon in 2009, I discovered my potential to express myself through writing, a strength that would eventually allow me to overcome my long-term challenge: living as an autistic individual.
It was in August 1999, just a couple of months after my second birthday, that my family was served a plate of life-changing news. Their daughter, their pride and joy, perhaps a future scientist or assistant veterinarian, had earned a position on the autism spectrum.
Despite countless reassurances that my future would still be bright (and the jokes afterwards among professionals that each of my family members should probably buy a pair of shades) as the diagnosis was confirmed, “high functioning,” the delays in my development were fairly obvious compared to others of my age.
For this reason, neurologists and pediatricians alike confessed to my parents that the disability would likely prevent me from properly expressing myself, making me a “social outcast” for the duration of my journey through school.
My time in elementary school proved to be the most difficult three years of my childhood.
People could tell that I was autistic, as if I were, somehow, a glass door. In addition, a doormat must have been bundled in with my mental parcel as well, because, unfortunately, I quickly discovered that 75 per cent of my classmates insisted on using me as one.
Soon enough, I snapped. No longer did I want to live as a puppet, or as if everybody in the world would rather pack their bags and move to the farthest ends of the universe than care about my feelings. I just wanted to live … like a regular child.
Found the answer
I would often lie in my bed, distraught, pondering, amongst my dreams and other things, exactly why I wasn’t capable of functioning like everybody else.
It seemed that there was a brick wall blocking me from normalcy. Me, versus the rest of the world. Then, the next year, I found the answer I was looking for.
One morning at recess, I was bolting to the swing when a teacher called me into her classroom. Complying, I stepped in, and, upon sitting down, she reassured me. It soon came to my 10-year-old knowledge that this teacher had observed me for quite a while, and discovered that, socially, I was having a fair bit of trouble with my peers.
Understandingly, I proceed to hear the worst possible words that could creep out of anybody’s mouth. My wish to be normal would never come true, because, basically, I wasn’t. Or, that’s what I thought. If this wasn’t bad enough, consider the fact that my mother wouldn’t even broadcast the fact that I was any different up until this time, for the reason of wanting me to feel like a “normal” child, (as if I even felt like one!) and you’ve got yourself the ingredients for the ultimate recipe for disaster.
Nevertheless, as days changed to weeks, and weeks crept on, overshadowed by months, I underwent a strong period of tension and depressed emotions, such that waking up every morning felt very similar to getting forcefully kicked in the gut. I was held prisoner in my own body, as time seemed to advance in slow motion.
There was no way to tell anyone how I felt (anyone willing to listen, for that matter) and exactly how I envisioned myself in the changing world around me. That was, until Grade 7.
Set feelings free
Baccalieu Collegiate. This was the very place where I finally broke out of my shell, the place where my voice mattered.
Here, I discovered the tools of mass creation. One day, in September of that year, a very kind teacher, having knowledge of my past frustrations, told me, “Whatever you’re feeling, set it free right here.”
She was pointing to a thick, snow white sheet of paper, just sitting there blank. Just like my mind. But not for long.
This type of expression was not often given to me in previous years, and it was a given nature of mine to take full advantage of the chance I was being given. This was it.
My voice had been trapped in my head for years, just aching to finally tell somebody what it’s like to be … me.
And at that moment, I emptied the contents of my mind onto that paper, as if it were a can of paint. So many colours, so many options of decoration.
These colours, the blues of ocean and sadness, the reds of mighty rage, and, most importantly, the black of cruelty and anguish, from 12 years of self-doubt and frustration. It was now done. I’d finally revealed my personality.
Now, I could show it off, without fear of being judged. Now, I realized words like “autism” and “autistic” were no longer taboo, and to this day, I still take pride in the strength I have unleashed, all through my longing for expression.
As people, we sometimes wish that we could “fit in” or better relate to the world around us. This desire to fit in may often result in frustration.
No matter how severe the feeling may be, each challenge, big or small, can be overcome. I realized that my writing had allowed me to overcome my conflicts, and break barriers of the past, in return.
In the end, my 12 years of receiving battle scars had enabled me to earn, and utilize, my own weapons: the “weapons of mass creation.”
Tori Oliver is an autistic Level II student at Baccalieu Collegiate in Old Perlican. She is 16 years-old, and lives in Gull Island with her mother, Jolene Oliver, and her two-year-old brother, John. She recently wrote this narrative essay, which spotlights a “breakthrough experience” she had in Grade 7. Her intent is to shed some light on what it’s like to live with autism.