Have you ever felt tired when you know you have a job to do? What about wanting a little break, like being taken out of a ballgame for a short period of time to collect your thoughts and catch your breath? How about feeling weighed down and stuck replaying memories of various ages that make you feel ashamed of yourself? This sounds a lot like how we used to understand PTSD. If you mention this topic in everyday conversation, you’d associate it with combat veterans and abuse victims. As serious as this topic is to them, very few people realize that autistic kids and adolescents can have unacknowledged early-onset PTSD. After all, kids can be nudged in a more helpful, productive direction, or lead them to believe they stink at basic tasks such as politeness and eye contact. I don’t see much of a middle ground. Once your confidence is wrecked, one of the hardest tasks is pulling out of that tailspin.
I first wondered about this mixture of PTSD and Asperger's when I watched Patton. A pivotal scene in this WW2 general’s biopic shows him touring a military hospital and interacting with wounded and maimed soldiers. They were in slings and casts. Some of them even had amputated limbs. General Patton takes the time to talk to these war heroes before he approaches a crying infantryman in uniform without any noticeable injuries. This scene below shows how it unfolds.
Does this also sound like Asperger's to you?
In previous eras, it was expected to hold in your problems and show little if any emotion. Anyone who needed a break was cajoled to suck it up without having any time to gather themselves together. Now we know that can indicate a more serious neurological condition. Ask yourself if you or your child feels a negative mood shift. You might find common ground with my adolescence. My mom said after looking through family pictures that I looked sad and that something weighed me down. This clip reminded me of those years. Except I wasn't slapped. I have enough sense to count my blessings.
I'm writing this from home, in the basement where I must have spent at least half my life. I'm not as productive as I'd like to be here. Home is where you go to regroup after a long day. It's where I went to play with my siblings, watch hours of TV, and play around on the computer or my Playstation. Here I got a breather from feeling like I was never good enough, from all the times no one had any patience with me, whether it was all but several of my peers or all but a few of my teachers. I did not choose the right extracurriculars, from baseball to band. Learning difficulties led to the wrong placement in class. At the age of 13, I faced all these problems in school each day on top of prejudiced comments on account of a Star of David I wore on top of the general pushiness of my classmates. If that's not enough, my mom had finished chemotherapy treatment just before my dad needed dialysis towards the end of his life. This entire year felt like looking up at the scoreboard during a game and stunned that the score was so lopsided against me. I needed a time out that wasn't coming just to figure out my next move. I constantly felt ashamed, embarrassed, incompetent, ineffectual, exhausted, and mistrustful. I can remember wasting time in unproductive ways and staying up later than my parents watching TV. Unlearning bad habits is one of the most difficult tasks I've ever attempted.
In spite of it all, I had a mostly happy childhood. No one asks me about those parts. Many folks who face similar problems know what it's like to have their confidence wrecked. I recently came across a speech by multitalented vlogger Amethyst Schaber at a conference about what it's like to remember traumatic moments in her life in excruciating detail. She's always poised and eloquent when speaking publicly. If honing that skill came from a place of pain I wouldn't be surprised. When someone got stabbed in the back by trusted adults or received terrible advice, everyone eventually sees the after effects.
Can you recall this many of your worst moments too?
I hope you don't feel weighed down all the time. The one advantage of watching hours of baseball and football when I was a kid was that I eventually figured out what goes into a competitor's mindset. There's no substitute for getting up after receiving a hit then figuring out what went wrong and correcting it.
P.S. I have two expectations of school: Learn more often than you aren't, and make at least a few friends. When one does not happen, it's bad enough, but when neither of these occurs, you will see the consequences unfold before your eyes and are going to want to change something about the situation.