Yes, I was expelled from preschool, of all places.
On what grounds? Embezzlement? Racketeering? Insider trading? I only wish I were that cool.
People like me don’t exactly “fit in.”
By age 3, I’d learned all the countries, capitals, and flags of the world (not an exaggeration, apparently), so that left me little time or space to learn a thing or two about interacting with others. Sharing. Sitting. Cooperating. Conforming to norms. Slowing things down. Listening.
Structured spaces, homogenous places, new faces – those were all well and good, I suppose. But it was a far more subtle thing that did me in.
My problem – I looked normal.
Hear me out:
Let’s say a pre-school classmate rolls in on a wheelchair. Without thinking, you’ll hold a door longer, you’ll be conscious of standing when speaking to him, and you’ll be considerate of his difference. It’s human nature.
It’s an “accommodating reaction.”
But say this kid looks like he could be your able-bodied sibling.
Only she . . . never looks at you when speaking.
Or he won’t pay attention to you unless he arranges his desk objects —just so—-and only then do you enter the picture.
I’m not out to blame anyone, so I definitely don’t blame that preschool for having almost no clue about a regular-looking dude like me.
I slipped in under any accommodating reaction because it’s hard to “see” autism.
I didn’t sit as still as the others, if I sat at all. I wasn’t much for listening when people called for me; can’t say I’d learned to crawl out of my little world yet.
I was bored. Bored. Unchallenged. Agitated.
While they were teaching colors and shapes, I was reading. Reading words in books. I couldn’t bring myself to sandbag myself to get to everyone else’s level.
That wasn’t what a normal-looking kid was supposed to act like.
It’s hard to slow myself down.
To this day, I still struggle to behave in similar situations. It’s bitten me more times than I can count, and I’m only slowly getting experience in chilling out and saving the rocket fuel for later instead of getting frustrated about not using it.
Nowadays, the preschool kickout makes for a funny anecdote. Looking back, it’s a bit ridiculous.
But it was my first foray into an important life lesson: you’re either playing along, or you’re playing elsewhere.