Last night a twitter discussion by #ActualAutistic people kicked off after Anonymously Autistic posted a blog about how horrid school was and from the discussion I’d say most of us that commented do not have fond memories of school me included.
In some respects I was lucky I’m the middle child and both my sisters are social and talkative so if I wanted my chunk of attention I had to learn to verbally communicate. The fact there was always children in our house both younger, my age and older than me meant I had subjects to study so I could mimic how you should behave to blend in. Lastly I have a phenomenally high IQ so I figured out ways to hide issues like the fact I couldn’t read for a very long time.
However it became evident in Kinder School (the 2 years of semi-formal education before grade 1) that education and I were going to have a problem. 6 months into my first year and I got suspended for 4 weeks oddly not for tantrums and melt-downs as I’d learnt not to do that in public by then. It was for and I’m not kidding my “wilful disobedience and deliberate rule breaking”.
- Strike 1 – Shoes and sock are to be warn at all times. I hated the feel of the school uniform socks and the shoes hurt my feet so I kept taking them off. After two days of being forcible held by one teacher while the other put my socks and shoes back on I took to taking them off at first break, climbing the 6ft fence and tossing them over the fence, it just made the teachers crankier. So in desperation the next week on the drive to school I took my shoes and socks off and tossed them out the car window. This kind of worked because a crises meeting was held and it was agreed so long as I had foot wear on they no longer cared what it was so I got to go to school in my favourite cotton sock and cowboy boots (the only shoes I would wear).
- Strike 2 – teacher told us that if the musical instruments were in the box they were not to be touched. Ok but the piano wasn’t in the box and she’d never said we couldn’t touch the piano so I started playing the piano getting the other kids wound up. When she dragged me into the Kinder School principles office I very logically explained that the piano was not in the box so technically I was allowed to use it. My parents were called and I was suspended till the following Monday. I was ok with that I got to spend two days helping my grandmother cook and learning to cultivate tomato seedlings from my grandfather.
- Strike 3 – teacher told us or rather me that no we could not use our fingers to paint we could only use what was on the table. So I took my shoes and socks off, climbed on the table and started using my feet to paint. She went apocalyptic screaming and ranting to the point the other Kinder Teacher came in and so did the Principle to find my teacher ranting, most of the other kids now crying in terror and me standing on the table minus my shoes & socks with paint all over my feet. When the teacher said or rather screamed “I told you to only use what was on the table” I said “I know that’s why I climbed onto the table rather than putting my paper on the floor”.
The Strike 3 incident was the final straw and I was removed from the room to the Principles office where my mum, dad, grandmother and grandfather were called in to discuss what was to happen. On hearing what I’d done this time my Grandfather volunteered to take me outside and once around the side of the building laughed so hard he snorted. Once he’d stopped laughing he told me that if I kept being like this the next 13 years of education would not be very much fun. I distinctly remember having a mental panic attack that I was going to be stuck in this horrid place for 13 years, by that time I’d be as old as Grandfather (I was only 3 so I was still coming to grips with maths).
I took Grandfathers advice to heart and tried very hard to be “average” at school because I’d logically worked out that the really smart, really dumb and really disruptive kids became the focus of both teachers and also bully’s attention and that was not a good thing. Generally as a rule I got on ok with most kids but didn’t make close friends and most importantly I was considered “average” so most of the time I was part of the invisible crowed of average kids. I was also smart enough to not get caught if I did have to defend myself and the odd bully or smart ass who tried their luck at attempting to make me a victim soon found out I’m very good at making the other kids laugh at you not me plus for a fat kid I had amazingly fast reflexes and a killer right hook punch.
However not all went well. Grade 3 was hell not just for me but for the entire class as we had a teacher that was a carbon copy of Mrs Tunchbull from the book Matilda. She slammed the blackboard ruler down so hard on one of my classmates hands she actually broke his hand and somehow she never got in trouble for anything she did to us despite parental complaints. She stayed teaching Grade 3 for another 10 years until she was charged by the police with assault after she throw a student out a closed second story window and his parents skipped complaining to the school and went right to the police.
By the end of Grade 3 it was becoming very obvious I could not read. The teachers in younger grades all missed it because I have a photographic and phonographic memory so if you read me a story more than twice I would remember what words went with what pictures so I looked like I could read. However take away the pictures or expect me to cold read out loud from a book I’d never seen before and I was screwed because the connection between groups of letter and words doesn’t exist in my brain.
The fact I couldn’t read by Grade 4 got me put in the *special education assistance program* where 3 times a week I was forced to spend from 13:00 (1pm) to 15:30 (3:30pm) in the special education room with a teacher who was theoretically trained in helping children with learning difficulties. My special ed class consisted of me, a pyromaniac, a guy with a very low IQ and a kid I now realise was autistic with extreme traits who did have meltdowns. By the end of the first class I decided I hated the special ed teacher and she had to go. The problem was I’d learnt from what happened with my Grade 3 teacher that teachers no matter how bad didn’t get fired and the only way to get ride of her was if she voluntarily quit. So I decided I was going to figure out how to make her so fed up, stressed out or terrified she’d do quit. Why did I hate her – she talked to all of us like we were toddlers and first class she patted me on the head and said “don’t worry sweetie there are places in the world were people like you can be looked after, you might even one day get a job”. Wrong thing to do and say to a kid with a genius level IQ who at that point in time really didn’t have a good/bad mortal compass and lacked the ability to feel fear or empathy toward humans.
I had tried the low key tactics of giving the pyromaniac matches, winding the autistic kid up so he’d explode in a rage and so on but nothing was rattling this woman serene composure. So I studied her and I worked out she kept the windows closed because she was phobic about insects of any kind. Couple of weeks into attending her class the cotton trees flowered and I decided it was time to ramp it up and really make this woman life hell. The only colour this woman would wear was blinding white and cotton bugs are attracted to anything that is white. So with some help from a friend who was a true juvenile delinquent I gathered a whole bunch of cotton bugs in a container and we then broke into the classroom and very carefully put the container minus it’s lid into the desk draw. Next afternoon I gave the pyromaniac a box of matches knowing full well the minute she saw them she’d take them off him and open the desk draw to put them in the draw for safe keeping thus releasing the bugs. OMG it worked spectacularly the bugs swarmed all over her clothes and her hair and she started running around the room then up and down the verandah outside shrieking her lungs out. Of course because she was now outside teachers, students, the grounds keeper, the vice-principle and the principle came running to see what was happening. They ended up having to call an ambulance and a doctor to sedate her as she was so freaked out she started taking her cloths off to get rid of the bugs.
Special ed classes where of course now on hold till a replacement teacher could be found. This was fine by me I could go back to attempting to be average and hide in the crowed. That was the other reason I hated special ed for the first time it made me a target and pointed out to the other students and teachers that I was DIFFERENT!
3 weeks later Special ed classes were back on and the new teacher was just as irritating. She was a disciplinarian with a fondness for using her cain as an educational assistance tool. She had allocated seating, every thing had its place and had to be put back exactly in that place and so on. She was also a firm believer that rote learning was the only way to learn so writing out “I am stupid because I can not read” 1000 times would somehow miraculously teach me to associate jumbles of letters and words as being the same thing. She used to tie the autistic kid to his chair, she tied the low IQ guys hands behind his back so he couldn’t fidget, she would do an aggressive pat down search of the pyromaniac looking for matches and she would lock the door once we were inside with the key so we couldn’t escape. After week one of the new teacher I was sick of her and the rest of the class bailed me up after Fridays class and asked how I was going to get rid of this one, so we came up with a plan.
My favourite juvenile delinquent (JD) and I used to break into the room and hide boxes of matches and lighters all over the room. Then me and the others would deliberately mess up whatever we were doing and she’d screw it up and put it in the bin then Pyro would set the bin on fire. Autism would just let rip and have full on punching the walls melt-downs and if he wasn’t in the mood to have one I’d wind him up till he would explode. JD and I also stole all the chalk out of the class room and the rope she had hidden in the cupboard that she used to tie us up with, so she took to brining her own. She was made of tough stuff and was proving hard to get rid of so I got creative.
One Saturday with the help of JD and a couple of his older brothers we broke into the special ed class room and super-glued every thing to her desk so she couldn’t move it and I ensured it was in total chaotic order, I also super-glued the books to the bookshelves in random order and so on. Ah it worked well she went off her nut and figuring out it was me started chasing me around the room with her cain (that she was not supposed to have) threatening to beat me to within an inch of my life. So Pyro and low IQ quickly filled all the bings in the room with paper and set fire to them and then they kicked the door she had locked open and autism ran up and down the verandah shrieking his lungs out. So naturally a repeat of teachers, students, grounds keeper, vice-principle, principle and a new audience member the school inspector gathered to watch the show. By now the Special ed teacher was chasing me around the outside of the building still threatening to kill me, the grounds keeper was using the fire extinguisher to put out the bin fires, my special ed class mates were laughing their asses off and the Principle looked like he was going to have heart failure because the School Inspector standing next to him was NOT IMPRESSED.
My juvenile delinquent friends older brother who’d just come back to school after a stint in the juvenile correction facility said to me that afternoon as we were all walking home “remind me never to piss you off you are truely evil”. At the time I was confused as to why he would say that, now as an adult I see his point.
My plan did work exceptionally well, actually better than I thought it would, the special ed teacher was placed on “administrative leave” and again classes were stopped while an investigation into issues with special ed teaching at the school was conducted. There was also some unintended consequences:
- The school principle was persuaded to take early retirement, it wasn’t entirely my fault the bottle of whisky in his desk draw also contributed to the decision.
- The new principle who had been the Vice-Principle put me on notice and suggested to my family that perhaps this was not the right school for me and if one more incident occurred they wouldn’t have a choice they would be forced to find me a new school as I would be expelled.
- The school inspector having reviewed all the reports on my behaviour in special ed and my normal classes sent me for psychological evaluation on the grounds I was “an unteachable delinquent of possibly low IQ and may be dangerous to staff or other students”. Effectively they wanted to know if they could legally kick me out of the education system on the ground I was either to stupid to learn or to dangerous to have in a classroom. I was sent back to the evaluation team 4 times because the Dept of Educations review board did not believe the report that said “the student is of the 1% of the population with an IQ above the range we can measure but is dyslexic which is creating issues with her ability to learn to read”. The final report simply stated “the child is not of low IQ, does not have delinquent tendencies and is not unteachable. Perhaps you need to have your education professionals assessed as to if they are actually capable of teaching”.
- When I changed schools the next year we hit a bit of a glitch. My file naturally had been sent to my new school from my old school. This is when we found out my file stated that I now had a life time ban on the ability to access any form of educational assistance from the Department of Education State wide due to my pervious disruptive and delinquent behaviour. Considering I was now about to turn 11 and I could still not read this was a problem.
However my new school was smaller and had vastly different ideas on teaching so I was placed in a progressive class room with an awesome teacher who did not believe in rote learning or allocated seating, so long as it help you learn you could have been doing yoga poses and he wouldn’t have cared. So between him and my mum and dad they came up with a program that worked and I eventually learnt to read. Their philosophy was if I wanted something bad enough I’d learn how to do it so my mum would stop and the most suspenseful part of a book, knowing full well it would drive me nuts and I worked hard to learn to read so I could find out what happened next.
High School I tried hard to fly under the radar and be “average” but of course that doesn’t work when you can do advanced mathematics, physics and chemistry equations really easily but you struggle to write an essay for English literacy. Add in the fact that I had no idea about how to dress, how to use makeup, how to do my hair or how to flirt and I soon became and “outsider” of the girls of my entire year level. Oddly because I didn’t morph into hormonally charged beach bitch barbie or dark gothic and moody the guys who’d known me since Kinder School liked spending time with me so I’d get invited to go crabbing or fishing with them on weekends and naturally they’d want my opinion of some chick. My opinion was probably not nice but it was truthful and thanks to my ability to mimic I could do an incredibly realistic impersonation of what said chick was like and what she said without a male audience.
By my final year of High School I was on the home schooling program partly due to my inability to handle normal school environments but mainly because I was extremely ill and in the pervious 14 months I’d spent a total of 10 months in and out of hospital. By now I was 18 years old and I was more focused on getting out of hospital and staying out of hospital than my education so I did none of my course work. However I was sent a graduation certificate because I had not legally informed the Dept of Education in writing that I as an adult learner no longer wished to be enrolled in the home schooling education program.
At 20 I enrolled in TAFE to do my Certificate Level III in Office Administration and discovered I did not hate it. I found bits of it frustrating but I basically got given the information and got sent away to learn it my way and that worked for me. So at 22 I sat the adult entrance exam for University and surprised the hell out of everyone I was in the top 5% of applicants and had my pick of university offers. By now I’d figured out I was good at anything to do with Data so I went off to University to do my Bachelor of Information Technology (Systems Engineering). As per normal I found some subjects I was brilliant at and others I struggled to get a pass mark. Because my autism and ADHD were undiagnosed and my Dept of Education assessment of dyslexia was done when I was in Primary School I was ineligible to access Students With Special Needs Assistance. I’m not sure how much help they would have been considering I struggled more with social interaction with fellow classmates than I did with course work.
Over the next 10 years I finished my original Bachelor Degree then two more Post Graduate Degrees and a shit load of other things related to whatever job I was employed at. Was it hard yes and no. Consistently throughout all my degrees some subjects I excelled at and some subjects I only just managed to pass. The difference between school and university was that for once unless I was made to do a group assignment no one cared if I didn’t talk to other people. The lecturers didn’t single people out they just gave you the information and expected you as an adult to go do your own research. By the time I did my Post Graduate Degree in Psychology I wasn’t even attending lectures because most of it was online and that was fine with me.