Once upon a time there was a little girl. She was the quiet sort, who liked to read and to cuddle with her stuffed animals under her blankets. She didn’t speak much, and when she did, she often sounded just like the characters in her books. She liked to twirl around with her arms outstretched, and to tap out rhythms only she could hear. She loved classical music, because it was pretty, and yearned to play the piano, which she was allowed to study when she entered kindergarten. She was keenly observant, noticing every little detail of what was going on around her. She hated dresses, and preferred to dress for comfort. She hated loud noises, and would cry every time a motorcycle drove past. Foods she didn’t like could send her into a tiny ball under the table, rocking and hiding her face in her knees. She never really got along with her classmates, which was mostly fine, except when they were actively mean to her. She loved math, and spent most of school thinking about numbers. Her handwriting was worse than bad, despite hours and hours of practice both in school and out of it. She was extremely smart, but wasn’t allowed to skip ahead in school because she wasn’t ready socially. So instead she got lost in her encyclopedias.
She made friends with the girls who didn’t speak English, because you don’t have to speak the same language to be friends. She read bigger and bigger books, walking with the Hobbits to Mt. Doom, and traveling to the Isle of Avalon while her classmates watched Jane and Spot run. She figured out how bases worked and discovered Pascal’s Triangle, and generally amused herself. She rarely complained, because she knew that if she said anything, her mother would get angrier with her than before, because she just wasn’t working hard enough at fitting in and being just like everyone else. Then the other girls in the class discovered just how easy it was to fit her in a locker and take her lunch. So she learned to get in the back of the lunch line so they would be in front of her and not be near her locker, and to just go hungry if she messed up. They started to take her pencil or write on her work in class. So she took her desk outside in the hallway to work. They started teasing her about her clothes, so she would simply cover her ears. And they started grabbing her hands away so they could whisper more poisonous words into her ears. She took a book to recess, and the adults took it away, so she played on the swings until the girls kicked her off. She spun in circles to feel better, but that only increased the mean words. But she stayed silent. She knew that if she complained, the consequences would be even scarier at home. When she first told her parents she wasn’t fitting in, she would get “talked to”, told she needed to try harder, that she needed to stop using big words, that she was obviously deficient. When that didn’t work, the responses got scarier, so she stopped saying anything.
It became her mission in life to be invisible. She learned how to blend into the background. Not conforming, because that was impossible, but not standing out, either. She learned that flapping her hands would cause her teachers or classmates to grab her arms and force them to her sides. She learned that repeating the big words she heard in books would cause the other students to laugh at her and tease. She learned that no one else cared what happened in her books, or what she had just learned about her favorite things. She learned that sharing these things meant she was yelled at, or smacked, or banished to time out. She learned that the best thing for her to do was disappear, and to hide her entire existence. So she did.
The little girl grew up. She continued to read and to learn. She continued to love learning about the world around her. Her observation skills got even better. She still liked to twirl in circles. She still liked to snuggle her stuffed animals. She still used big words. She still existed on a plane that was different from those around her, communicating in her own unique way. Her clothes continued to be practical and comfortable, rather than fashionable. Her palate of foods she liked expanded, but she still continued to be an incredibly picky eater. She still loved classical music and playing the piano. And she still curled up into a ball and rocked when her sensory system got overloaded. She learned that these things that made her so different from the other little girls had a name: autism, and her whole world opened up with this discovery. She learned that she was a person, to be valued as all other people. She learned that she could interact with people and not make them angry. She learned that she could make a difference to the way that people think. She learned that she was actually a really good teacher. She discovered that her obsessions over small details, and her love of the natural world made her into a great researcher. She met people who loved her for her quirks, and cherished the time they spent with each other, just being themselves. She learned that she counted, that she had value as a person, and that she was worthwhile. Not despite her autism, but because she was Autistic.
And with this newfound knowledge of her existence, the little girl, who wasn’t so little anymore, came into her own. She went to college, and began to live independently. She graduated and went to graduate school. She learned about herself, and has made her world her own. And she still loves her stuffed animals, and spends most of her time on her own. She has made true friends, who value her whole person and who treat her with respect. She still curls up into a ball and rocks. And she hates most complicated food. But she doesn’t hide anymore. She knows now, that she doesn’t have to be invisible anymore. She knows, now, that it’s ok to be seen, and that it’s ok to be herself. And now she writes a blog, so that she can share her experiences, and hope that someone else, who has spent their entire life trying to be invisible, can learn that they, too, are a valuable human being, who can make a positive difference in the world. She learned to take the Third Glance at herself, and those around her. Because she knows, now, that everyone deserves to be seen.
Happy New Year, everyone. May this year ahead be all you hope it will be and more. This year, as we are all contemplating our “new year’s resolutions” to make ourselves into better people, please consider making one of your resolutions to take The Third Glance at yourself and the world, and find the wonderful person inside. The world could do with some more tolerance, kindness, and friendship, and it all starts within. Thank you so much for all the support, comments, and shares this year. And thank you first, and foremost, for reading. Have a great 2013, and I’ll see you in the new (calendar) year.