Monday, February 23, 2009

My Social Experience

Since I feel like grade school is far enough in the past, I think now is an appropriate time to reflect upon my experience socializing in an NT world. I've gotten decent at it over the years, to the point where I can hold healthy friendships, but there's still a lot to be learned.

Before kindergarten, I don't remember much - I've been told I was the type of child who would play in the corner by herself. I could draw basic human anatomy (five fingers on each hand, two eyes in the right place, etc - none of it was very good in general, but for a toddler I guess I was a pretty good artist!) before I could even speak - my parents sent me to an occupational therapist when I was around two or three. The words came out eventually, but I still wasn't using them, at least not correctly. I did learn eventually but it took years. I'd sit in the corner with my Barbies, not uttering a peep - even when I had friends over. 

I remember I enjoyed very directed activities, like dress-up and make believe games. I spent so much time in fantasy worlds that it detatched me from my surroundings - I would be perfectly content with sitting under a table, lost in my thoughts without a care in the world. In kindergarten my parents would let me have playdates with other girls, but even then my mind would go elsewhere - until first grade.

The next year, I met two of my best friends, whom I have remained close with to this day. We'll call the girl Caroline, and she was nearly as quirky and silly as me. We became friends with a boy, Kevin, and would all go on adventures together in the playground - on the swingset, mostly. We created a fantasy world for just the three of us, and we even had an initiation process for entering this world. Now, I knew we were oddballs, but we didn't care at all what other people thought. 

With the outside world, however, I couldn't socialize at all. I got fixated with doing a lot of strange Aspie-like behavior, like repeatedly making weird animal noises, and the other children would tease me. It didn't really affect me though - as long as I had my friends and our fantasy world everything was good. I do remember being embarassed for being the only person in the class who had an aide, but that wasn't so bad at the time. 

In third grade, I finally became aware of little social nuances here and there that signified popularity - the clothes, the toys, the flashy sneakers, the gel pens that came in 40 different colors and you weren't cool unless you had every single one. Every girl in my class that was well-liked had all of these things and more, and it was around this time when I began to notice that I wasn't like them. I then realized there was something beyond material possessions that these girls had that I didn't, and though I couldn't place my finger on it, I wanted desperately to be like them. 

At the beginning of middle school I moved to a new town. This place wasn't so bad - I was still strange, but I had a good number of friends, a few of which I've stayed close with over the years, and even though I made a lot of social faux pas, I think it was around this time where I began to take notice of what behavior did and didn't get me into trouble. I developed my own unique sense of style and enjoyed video games, ice skating and art activities. I was OBSESSED with Pokemon as well, but then again, so was everybody else, so my eccentricities were masked by a universal fad. I was extremely immature and socially behind, but I didn't appear that different from my peers - that is, until high school.

Before high school I moved again, this time to a small town where the kids there were drastically different from me - my eccentricities stood out a lot more in this new, strange town. I didn't know how to initiate friendships in a normal sense and became an outcast. I couldn't hold a conversation with anybody because my insecurities took over, and the condescending attitude my classmates responded with made my self-esteem plummet even further; I couldn't win. The harder I tried to make friends, the more this reputation stuck. Despite what these kids claimed, I knew I was worth it and tried to change everything that made me different. I openly rebelled against any special education services that I was required to take and kept to myself, while still paying attention to how the other girls acted and presented themselves. I was at my worst during this time - my vulnerability was at its highest during these four years.

I tried to distract myself from this reality - I became heavily involved in extracurricular activities and my schoolwork; I desperately wanted to prove that I was intelligent, contrary to what my peers believed. Though they weren't exemplary, I ended up getting decent grades and surprised some people when I got into a few higher-level classes. My ed plan was terminated around my junior year of high school, and though I realize I probably could have still used some help from them, it was nice to know that I, who had been initially diagnosed with pretty low-functioning Asperger's, had surpassed what was expected of me. 

During this time, I made some friends in different towns, which was nice. I experienced plenty of social mishaps, but by this point I was able to learn from my experiences and benefit from them.

College has come a lot easier - the experience I gained in high school has helped me loads. I'm also fortunate to go to a relaxed school where my peers are accepting of uniqueness. I still experience a barrier in a lot of my relationships, apart from my closest friends, but it is still nice to bask in a pleasant atmosphere filled with smiling faces. Though I'm still socially behind in some ways, I'm finally okay with this - I'll get there with time.  Life will offer endless experiences to gain something from, and I can't even begin to explain how excited I am to see how things move along.

So, if you pay attention to other people around you and get some input from a more objective source, then I think it's possible to learn how to be more socially adept. I know my instance has been more personal, but I'm hoping somebody out there is able to connect with my experience!

1 comment:

A said...

That's really interesting. A lot of it sounds like my childhood (minus the aide and special education plan).

And I remember the gel pens! There were ones that smelled of different fruits and things too. I collected them in an attempt to fit in... but someone I knew kept stealing them, so I painstakingly labelled them all with my name, yet they still went missing. I miss those pens!

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