My Life with Asperger Syndrome (page 3)
My name is Cameron and I am 17 years old. I have just finished my junior year in high school. I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS) when I was eight and in the second grade.
I am the oldest of four siblings; my youngest brother was diagnosed with autism at about the same time as my diagnosis.
Before I was diagnosed with AS, I had many challenges. My mom noticed from a young age that I would sometimes seem deaf—I would ignore everything around me and focus on what I was doing—usually something to do with my Thomas the Tank Engine trains. My speech was difficult to understand, and I was very schedule oriented and did not deal with changes well. I started speech therapy at age 3 and also entered a preschool program for language development at my school.
Some of the challenges I faced early on at school included social and sensory stuff. I hated fire drills, could not stand the loud music the gym teacher played, was obsessed with my schoolwork, and did not know how to join games at recess or socialize with my peers. I had a difficult time communicating with my classmates; I understood their words, but in context I got confused. It was hard to understand the rules of a group and the roles different people played. It was all so confusing to me. I could talk, but I could not communicate. I had good grades, but I was miserable in school. It was very stressful. When I would get off the bus, I would pace between my yard and the neighbor’s for hours some days to relieve the stress my body was feeling.
I would yell at my classmates to be quiet and told on them whenever they broke the rules because I wanted order. My teacher tried to help me by sitting me near her desk, but I really struggled. By second grade, my mom and teacher decided to have me tested by the school district. I was identified with AS. That was the beginning of things getting better. My family, therapists and teachers have always talked openly about me having AS, and are so supportive. I was provided with school accommodations, such as advanced warning for fire drills, permission to leave school assemblies, a “free pass” to the resource area if things got overwhelming, help with organization (I’m still working on that one!) and daily “cool-downs” at the end of the day, along with other sensory breaks.
With the help of some very creative assistants and teachers, I was able to make friends and get more involved with my classmates. By fifth-grade graduation, I was voted male student of the year!
Then came dreaded middle school, but there I came across an opportunity that had a profound effect on me and has changed my life for the better—band. My special interest has become musical instruments. I have quite a collection, especially of brass instruments. I play the French horn and found a group of peers who were very accepting—the band geeks! I started helping the director with younger band members and gained a reputation for my work with them. In eighth grade, he even let me direct a song for the sixth-grade spring concert! That year I also had the opportunity to march with the high school band, which gave me a wonderful chance to get to know and be accepted by kids already in high school. That helped with that transition so much.
Before entering both middle and high school, I had opportunities to visit the schools and get comfortable with where my classes were, who my teachers would be and how to open my locker (this is a big one!). I usually help with registration to get back into the swing of things before school starts. I have always had permission to step out of class if I get stressed too much. My teachers know I will not abuse this privilege. I know where some classrooms are that are “safe” if I have a problem at any time. I have spoken in many of my classes over the years about my AS. Many of my peers know about it and have asked questions. They accept me for who I am and, for the most part, help me along when I need it.
I plan on attending college. I’m not sure where or what accommodations I’ll need there, but I’ll cross that bridge as I come to it. I want to be an educator—maybe in music or my other interest, social sciences, like history and government, or even psychology! Like everyone else, I have hopes and dreams for the future. I still struggle with organization and some sensory issues, especially with noise, but I believe in the infinite potential of all and know there is much I can do if I am willing to work hard and not get too frustrated with the obstacles in my way. They just make me work harder and find ways around them that lead me where I am supposed to go. AS brings with it challenges, but they are challenges that can be overcome.
Cameron Blackwell is working towards a high school honors diploma. He began speaking about AS by age 10, and has presented with his younger brother and family at autism conferences.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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