The title says at all as I’m a good example of why the United States public education system is a joke. Being autistic and ADHD in the 90s and being undiagnosed was such a weird time mainly because accurate information wasn’t out there and then there was the “Ritalin epidemic” which probably only hindered my opportunities at being diagnosed. I had so much to navigate and little to no support… How did I make it to 31 safely and seemingly turned out okay? How did Autistics before me and/or less privelaged than I manage? It’s a lot to think and worry about especially when you consider things aren’t much better today.
The first day of school. I remember watching kids shows and seeing commercials where kids looked excited to go to school and was excited to go. I had been in preschool but it wasn’t even for 1/2 a day and I was home, which was the schedule I expected and seemed okay with but boy was I wrong. We tackled the letter “A” of the alphebet people the FIRST DAY. I can remember trying to join in on playtime with others like playing house but they didn’t like me playing the dad, tried playing with Dino’s and trains with the boys but my calling out types of dinosaurs lead me to be asked to leave that group too. By the end of the day, I was at my desk drawing by myself and little did I know then that this establishment of where I was going to be socially in school.
A couple years in only got worse. I was sick a lot from ear infections and sinus stuff which sucked but got me out of school. I hated school already by this point and embraced feeling shitty to go home and get away from the hell that was school. Different kids and different teachers never helped which only told me the problem was me. I didn’t do well in school. I can remember being requested to be held back in first grade and My parents refused for reasons I can’t remember. Teachers would say things like “she draws on her work too much. It’s messy. That’s why her grade got knocked down”, “all she wants to do is daydream. She never listens to anything I have to say!”, “She goes to the beat of her own drum.”….. I hated that one. Hated. I didn’t want to go to the beat of a different drum. I wanted my drum beat to not make me so different for adults and other kids to say things. By 2nd grade, I was sitting against the wall just drawing while everybody else played. I had tried to play many times but it resulted in being made fun of until I cried (calling me fat, stupid, and scary) and pushed off of playground equipment until it knocked the wind out of me. After enough times, I’d gotten the message that I was different and not welcome and to avoid that, I did my drawings against the wall during recess. I was always drained and tired and wanted to go home but couldn’t.
I got into comics a little bit. There were a couple of other kids against the wall as well for either in trouble or were just reading. I remember being shown comics like spawn, spiderman, and X-Men. I REALLY gravitated to the X-Men and felt like I looked like mystique to everyone else but when I looked in the mirror I looked normal. How they fought to be included and ACCEPTED and it really set the groundwork for me accepting my undiagnosed young autistic self. Wolverine was one of my favorites and loved the name Logan. Nightcrawler was my all time favorite.
I made my first group of real friends in 5th grade. People that I didn’t have to force myself to play dolls with or be directed by other kids in play. We just genuinely hung out and had similar interests. “This is what friendship should be” I told myself after not having that experience before. Some kids were nice to me in my younger years but I think ditched me to keep their place in kid elementary society. I don’t blame them either. They were just kids like I was and there were times I did the same thing until I figured all of that out.
While socially I was doing better than I had at that point, my grades were worse. I was officially not passing instead of just getting D+’s and at best was getting a D-. I had dragged on through the system for 4 years. My mom got me a tutor and I’d spend HOURS after school doing homework to try and catch up and pass. It was hell for everyone involved but especially me and my mom. It got to a point where she’d end up doing 90% of the assignment because it dragged on and I was already drained from school and didn’t have it in me to continue after school to do more schoolwork. I ended up barely passing that year. A D-. I should’ve been held back but I wasn’t. This same year, I had the worst bully of them all and started having black out spells (ended up being absence seizures but didn’t know until adulthood either). This bully would use my seizures as an excuse to volunteer to be my bathroom partner Incase I had a seizure in the bathroom. She’d copy my work which contributed to my bad grades (either we got caught cheating and both got in trouble, I’d purposely give wrong answers cuz she was cheating, or eventually gave up and didn’t care to do the work because of the above scenarios). When we dissected things she would take the knife and cut my legs under the table with it. My mom was constantly in the office bickering with them about doing something about this girl because she was so brutal to me. Nothing was done by the school system and on the last day of school she was messing with me at lunch and I told the lunch lady and we both got sent to the office… Which was a huge mistake but this time, it wasn’t in her favor. She grabbed the big gymnasium door as I was walking through and pulled it against and on me, squeezing me between the door and the frame. I was DONE. After a whole year of no one protecting me or helping me, instincts kicked in and I leaped onto that girl and started hammer fisting and punching her face. The next thing I remember is being dragged into the office by 3 teachers treating me like a wild animal along the way and scolding me.. until we got to the office with my mom who just so happened to be talking to the principal about this girl AGAIN.. saw me and saw her face and said to the principal “this is what happens when you ignore a child being bullied for an entire school year. And if my child gets in any trouble for this after everything she’s been through this year, we can have at it in court.” And I never heard a word about that scenario or that girl the next year in Jr high or ever again
I don’t remember much about my first year of 6th grade outside of one of my oldest friends. We met because I was drawing a Pikachu in math class. I had caught mono really early on in the year and was really sick that whole school year. Even after 6 months I could only do half days and I think with school being draining for me as it already was while still recovering from mono, I drained super easily. I had missed so much school they weren’t even taking doctors notes. Luckily, my parents were moving and we were getting out of the city and into the country. It was the perfect opportunity to be held back and I’m so glad my parents finally agreed to do it. I shouldn’t have been excited it for it but it had been so long of me falling further and further behind, I knew I needed it.
The next year of 6th grade repeated was the best school year yet at that point in my life. I made sure to be more outgoing in this school system so hopefully kids wouldn’t hate me so much. I also started actually passing classes and getting a couple A’s! Still got some D’s but it was mainly B’s and C’s which REALLY boosted my confidence after having D’s for so long. Due to missing so much school the year prior and moving to a new district, I never learned cursive as they had learned cursive already in 5th grade. Luckily, I’ve never ever used or needed cursive so I’m so glad I didn’t needlessly learn that.
The rest of Junior high was fine. I loved art and my art teacher was probably the best teacher I’ve ever had in my life. Our last year of Jr high, a student had committed suicide and it is an understatement to say it affected the entire school. Unfortunately, due to my home life and being taught emotions are bad, I didn’t handle this properly. I shut down and couldn’t even verbalize half the time. I couldn’t cry despite wanting to. I had my mom was there for me but when my dad calls my friend who’s just passed away a “pussy”, I wasn’t allowed to express my grief at home either and it started to swallow me. I’d always been depressed in my life but this was probably the second biggest pit of my life. I began to bang my head on lockers just to drown out as much as I could. I barely spoke to anybody. My art and science teachers were the ones who not only recognized something was wrong but they gave me safe spaces out of class when I needed them during the mourning process and called my mom on days where I shouldn’t have even been sent to school and needed to go home. My art teacher really encouraged my art when up until that point, I’d just been drawing just to draw. I didn’t have any confidence in anything I was doing or any reason to do it other than I enjoyed it but getting A’s in her class meant a lot to me and my teacher taught me the value of slowing down “just a little bit” and giving my art that little extra love and care it deserves instead of rushing something and completing the assignment the first run through. Id never visually seen patience pay off until this point and it really helped me even more in school in general… I didn’t have to rush on an assignment to get it done by the Bell in art and it was sooooooooooo nice.
Now, in high school, I academically did fine. However, the principal and the assistant principal failed me multiple times and we’re gonna get into that. I’m also going to say that I failed art in 9th grade and it killed my desire for art. I’m sorry but I thought I’d get that out of the way first before we get into the real bad stuff. Also, TRIGGER WARNING FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT. I was heavily failed by the heads of my high school on multiple occasions. The first time was on school grounds in 9th grade. My mom got the cops involved for “justice”. I just wanted to be left alone. When it went to court, all I asked for and ever asked for was the boy to get counseling. My mom tried to go to the school about it first to which they told her that “he’s an A-B, student and she’s more of a C-D student” and they weren’t going to do anything plus told the cops that when they interviewed the heads of the school. The incident hit a forum for our county at the time where adults and other students bashed me online. They didn’t even know my side… It was a million reasons why it was my fault and I was a piece of garbage for doing anything about it. I lost all my my friends over it. I was ashamed and because of everything that had transpired with the whole online forum caused me to where I couldn’t come out when someone who claimed to be my friend tried to do more than just assault me 3 years later after inviting me at his house to play video games with him and a bunch of our friends (he lied there were no friends there). I didn’t feel like I could tell anybody and not when it happened 3 days before I was moving to another state and not when this 6’3 football playing freshman used me just turning 18 my senior year (cuz I was held back and such) to silence me. It was a horrible situation to be left in and no child should have to feel like they can’t tell their parents or ANY adult at school in fear of what would happen especially after something like that.
I was also expelled for posting song lyrics on my Myspace page. I got called to the office during lunch like a month before the last day of school my junior year. My parents were already there in the office and as I sat down, the principal and assistant principal smuggly whipped out a 3 page printout of my Myspace page like they’d REALLY caught me being as bad as they thought. They had highlighted random things from my myspace printout and pointed to each one and was told that because of these, I was a threat to the school and was to leave and not come back the rest of the year. What did they highlight? Various lyrics to various metal songs from bands I listened to. I’m not even joking. These clowns even dragged the city police down and the police said there was no threat AND THE PRINCIPAL STILL TOLD ME TO LEAVE THE SCHOOL. My father was furious but because he was so disengaged with aspects of our lives for so long that he didn’t realize that’s how the school systems were and had been for me this whole time. I wasn’t even going to fight them anymore. Had I lied about a few dumb things here and there like students who get caught doing stupid dumb teenage things do? Yes. Id never deny that but they treated me like an animal. A girl bullied my friend and they did nothing so I tried to talk to the girl who decided to punch me in the face instead and I retaliate and who’s in trouble? Me. Guy slings girls books across the hall daily but my friend stands up to them bullying people and this guy and his sack of potato friends circle my 1 friend and I GRAB THIS GUYS SHIRT TO TELL HIM TO LEAVE PEOPLE ALONE and who gets in school suspension? Me. I didn’t look for fights or start them but I didn’t like seeing others getting bullied or ganged up on either and would absolutely finish them. They even called me a liar for saying I try not to judge people based on how they look based on how I’d been treated. I was called a liar daily when I had returned for 2 months my senior year during lunch for not moving. We were supposed to move over the summer and the house didn’t sell so we were stuck for a couple months longer. Every single day it was “I thought you were moving?”, “You’re not really moving”, “stop saying you’re moving”, etc until in October when everything was ready for us to move.
Two months into my senior year we moved to the south. My new school in the state we moved to couldn’t figure out which classes I did or didn’t have credits for so they moved me all the way back to a freshman. Yeah. You read that right. I was 2 months in my senior year and reduced to a freshman because they couldn’t figure out how to disperse the credits I earned from my old school into their system. I tried by doing catch-up classes but I had surgery that December that same year which left me 2 months out of school and held back again. I had enough at that point, was old enough to drop out myself, signed myself out of school, and immediately went and started GED classes that same day. I went to those for a month and took my test, graduating my senior year with a GED and scoring within the top 10% of graduating seniors that year. Many people may frown upon a GED but I’m so incredibly proud of mine.
So, that’s my long journey of 13 years in public school. I think getting older and just maturing helped a lot and I was able to focus easier once I realized I learned different ways and how to learn to remember things that worked for me. I had a great group of outcast friends in high school that really helped me out and I came out of my dark depressive pit at around the middle of 10th grade. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of kids to spend my high school years with! Overall, I think if more teachers were equipped to teach kids who learned in different ways and recognized the worth of every student and shows them what they’re capable of matter how disinterested they seem… We’d be seeing a decline in the dropout rate and we would see kids passionate and excited about school again.