I know several people who have kids “on the spectrum” and that the expression “trying to fit a square peg in a round hole” is often used when talking about the challenges faced by  kids, parents and teachers alike.

In her “Communities at WashingtonTimes.com” story, Autism: Finding a place to be “not even wrong“, writer and mother of an autistic son, Jean Winegardner echos the sentiments I’ve heard from other parents, “I want this to be a world where it is okay to be a square peg without having to pretend to be round. I don’t want to change Jack. I want to change the world.”

Winegardner’s changing the world by writing, and by talking with Jack’s classmates about being okay with difference in oneself and others, and about how they could be a friend to Jack. She expressed gratitude for his teacher who, “…  is trying to find a way for him to be a square peg and to make it okay. She is in no way an expert on teaching autistic kids. I don’t know if she knows much about autism at all. But she seems to intuitively get the need for square holes, and that is everything I can hope for.”

The commentary that follows was written by Hibbing High School student Tori Brown, and appeared yesterday in MPRNews. Tori has Asperger’s and a gift for honest communication – although you probably wouldn’t learn that sitting next to her in the classroom or assessing her with a “standardized” test. A great perspective to keep in mind as we continue to promote Success for ALL Students…

Tori Brown is a student at Hibbing High School. (Photo courtesy of Tori Brown)

It’s not that I don’t have emotions. That’s psychopathy, not Asperger’s. If anything, I actually feel emotions more strongly than other people. I just don’t have any way of telling anyone.

I rub my hands together because I’m thinking, not because I’m cold.

No, I would not like to shake your hand. Physical contact makes it feel like there are ants crawling all over me.

I know it doesn’t look like I’m listening, but I am. I’m just afraid of making eye contact.

In the name of all things holy, do not make that noise again. Do you have any idea how sensitive my hearing is?

What about this don’t you understand? I always take this route. I don’t care if it’s faster to go a different way, this is the way I always go.

For the love of God, I had my rock collection organized like that for a reason. Why did you have to go and mess it up?

School is harder for me than other kids. Imagine that you’re in a big building full of people you don’t know. Imagine that they’re speaking a different language and using hand gestures that you don’t understand. Imagine that it feels like everyone knows you’re different from them.

The kids in my class know something’s wrong with me. They see how I rub my hands together under the desk, how my handwriting looks like a third-grader’s, how it takes me longer to react to my name being called.

I learned a long time ago that my peers and I didn’t see things the same way. So I learned not to talk to them. Now, years later, I still do the same thing. If I can get my point across by nodding and pointing, that’s what I’ll do.

Have you ever had a time when there was just too much of something? Too much noise, too many things to focus on at once? Because that’s what walking down the halls at school feels like. There are TOO MANY PEOPLE and TOO MANY THINGS TO LOOK AT and IT’S WAY TOO LOUD.

My hearing is, as I said before, more sensitive than other people’s. If there is a sudden loud noise — a balloon popping, a door slamming, someone sneezing, the school bell going off — I flinch. Loud noises feel like a physical pain to me, like it’s gotten so loud that it’s crossed from mental to physical distress. I cannot stress enough how scared I am of loud noises.

And people scare me. One or two, fine. But the minute there are more than five, I shut down. It’s like stage fright, except I get it just by leaving my house.

Sometimes I don’t notice that someone has walked into a room until they say something, and then BOOM, it’s cardiac arrest time.

And social interactions, my God. If someone says something I don’t understand, it bugs me for the rest of the day. If I do something to embarrass myself, it will haunt me for the rest of my life. I don’t realize that I shouldn’t have said something until I say it and someone gets mad at me.

When I’m alone, I like to work on something I call my focus. A focus is simple. Take something you like — a band, a TV show, a video game series — and make it the most important thing in your life, second only to breathing. I’m obsessed with Pokemon, Sonic, wolves, Minecraft, the Spanish language in general, the state of California and the country of Argentina.

The thing is, though, Asperger’s isn’t just a cute little awkward-and-shy-genius thing. For every positive trait you have, you pay a price in the form of a negative trait.

My motor skills are so bad that I broke my ankle by tripping. I don’t know how to ride a bike. I can’t tie knots. I’m not very dexterous, so if two things are sitting close to each other, I’ll grab one and knock the other over. If there isn’t something for me to look at when I’m walking, I have no sense of balance.

The psychological aspect of it is important, too. I get extremely anxious over little things. I overanalyze things to the point where I freak myself out. I get angry and frustrated easily, and sometimes I just don’t understand.

People with Asperger’s are also twitchy by nature. They flap their hands, click their tongues, kick their feet. Sometimes they have a small object — usually a toy — that they twist and turn in their hands. In my case, I carry around figures with movable joints — if it isn’t manipulatable, I have no interest in it — or wooden snakes. I don’t know why I do it, but I know that fiddling with something is more comfortable than sitting still.

Asperger’s is a difficult disorder to deal with. If you have it, you more or less just learn how to deal with it and try not to break too much stuff in the process.

I have high-functioning Asperger’s, which means that it’s mild enough that I won’t have much trouble when I’m older. I can make conversation, compromise when I need to and I can understand sarcasm. (Not all Aspies can say that.)

As far as Asperger’s goes, I guess I got pretty lucky.