You like to categorize things into ‘it is’ or ‘it is not’. It helps you keep track of the world around you, but I have to tell you are going about it the wrong way. This is not a world of binaries. Certainly some binaries do exist, but this is largely a world of spectra- vibrant, living, breathing, ever-changing, one experience bleeding into another. Spectra of colors, sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, philosophies, orientations, ideas, histories, minds and stories, forming innumerable rainbows. You yourself are on some of those spectra. Autism is not the only spectrum you are on.
To the Me of Ten Years Ago,
If I could get in a particular DeLorean, set the flux capacitor fluxing, and go back in time, would I try to make your past more bearable? Would I warn you of what your future holds?
Right now, you are eleven years old, in the fifth grade. It is the most challenging year you have attempted. You are wondering why you are different, but all you can come up with is “this is just the way I am.” For now, that is enough. But you are getting to an age when society will no longer excuse your eccentricities as shyness and nurture alone. They will start asking for other answers.
You have already gone through some tough things. If I could go back, I could tell you not to worry about recess soccer. There will always be people who do not follow the rules, and you will save yourself tears and anxiety by not worrying about something as small as this. You will find there are much bigger issues to worry about.
I could explain to you, back when you were nine, though the teacher embarrassed you, she was instructing you in a valuable lesson. You really were being rude by not paying attention. It was humiliating, and the memory of it will sting a little every time it comes to mind. But that lesson will help you more than it hurt you right then.
Even though you get upset and cry when you are frustrated, I could reassure you it never means that you are a crybaby. The girl who said that was bullying you, but you believed her. You will have trouble with this tendency in years to come. You will find it difficult to ignore the bullies when you think you find some accuracy, some grain of truth in their words. But that supposed accuracy is only what you see in a mirror, darkly. It is not the truth. I repeat, it is not the truth.
That is all in the past, yours and mine. But what of the part of my past that is still in your future?
In a little while, one of your teachers will tell your parents that he suspects you have Asperger’s Syndrome. He will proctor some tests, but you will not know why you are taking them. A little more than a year after that, you will get an official diagnosis. You will be twelve years old.
This is not the end, nor is it the answer to life, the universe, and everything. This is a beginning, a place from which to start looking for answers, looking for strategies to deal with life.
And you will find life will be more difficult. School will be trickier, not only because of the workload, but because almost everyone around you will have a brain that works differently. You will explain, or will think you can explain, a lot of it with “I have Asperger’s,” but it will not explain all of your differences.
There is a lot that will happen that, as it happens, you will not understand its significance. You will be just living your life. But I stand at a point where I can see some of the import of what will happen.
You will have friends your own age, but you will start to gravitate toward teachers and other adults as well. They will usually make more sense than your peers, and it will be easier to talk to them. You will remain friends with some teachers beyond middle and high school.
You will join the high school theatre department in the tenth grade, and it will start you on a path you never imagined before. There is great wonder and camaraderie to be found on that path, but there is also embarrassment, heartache, tragedy. You will work backstage on every major production until you graduate from high school, and will even act in the final show. You will meet many friends. You will lose some friends.
You will write fictional stories, sometimes under a pen name. It will take some time to develop the skill. There will be some things you write that you will look back on and cringe. You will be met with some well-deserved criticism over that immaturity and tactlessness. But you will learn. You will cultivate your own style over many trials, errors and rewrites. You will even enter a story in a science fiction contest at school. You will win first prize, to your own bemusement.
College will be simultaneously easier and more difficult. You will have to forge your own path, partially because no one else will have ever attempted such an odd combination of studies. Seriously, no one but you would try to major in architectural engineering, and minor in theatre and in honors. You will be in college for at least five years, maybe more if something unexpected crops up.
You will become part of another theatre company. You will see “How to Succeed…” and decide a few years after that to ask if they take volunteers. The second day you volunteer, you will think, “This is it. This is the place I want to be. These are the people I want to be with. As much as I can, as long as I can, I want to be here.” It will be challenging, but the blessings will outweigh the ordeals a thousand times over. You will meet artists, storytellers, dancers, singers, entertainers, actors and performers. You will stand in awe of them. You will become friends with them. You will work together to create shows full of beauty, wonder, pain, laughter, family. Perhaps one day, you may even perform onstage with them.
You will study abroad for a semester. How does it turn out? Your guess is as good as mine, because I will leave this coming January. I will be completely on my own in another country for five months. Am I excited? Yes. Am I terrified? Yes. Am I going anyway? Definitely yes.
But back to my first question. If I could, would I go back? Would I try to make your past more bearable? Would I warn you of what your future holds?
I must honestly say I would not go back. You would not be the person you are today –I would not be the person I am today– if I did. So please rest assured. You will make it this far. It will not look anything like you imagined, but it will be fantastically marvelous.
A few more things. You like to categorize things into ‘it is’ or ‘it is not’. It helps you keep track of the world around you, but I have to tell you are going about it the wrong way. This is not a world of binaries. Certainly some binaries do exist, but this is largely a world of spectra- vibrant, living, breathing, ever-changing, one experience bleeding into another. Spectra of colors, sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, philosophies, orientations, ideas, histories, minds and stories, forming innumerable rainbows. You yourself are on some of those spectra. Autism is not the only spectrum you are on.
You will discover that there is no box society can construct that you will fit in. There is no label that can fully contain all that you will be, or all that you will hope to be. That is a gift. Never, ever doubt that it is a gift to be so individualistic. Sometimes it will feel like a curse to be so different, to never fully fit in with any group around you. But you will always be uniquely you. Every day, you will work to get a little closer to your truest self. It will be a lifelong process, but it is worth every second of the journey.
From the twenty-one-year-old Riley Minch.
Riley Minch is a full-time university student, and part-time writer and theatre technician.