Dancing in the Grey – Life with my Asperger’s
© Rory Matier 2015
Please Note this book was written in 2015.
The views within these chapters are mine and may not necessarily resonate with others on the spectrum – however bear in mind the quote by Dr. Stephen Shore .. “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
Chapter 7 – Ep 11
The Best Years of your life!
I can quite honestly say that my schooling days were not the best years of my life. They were a constant blur of social misunderstanding and awkwardness. I had to contend on more than one occasion of being the new boy, due to the constant moving around we did as a family by what many referred to as a globe trotting life style. There was nothing remotely glamorous about changing schools frequently and constantly moving house. Thankfully however by the time l was around thirteen we had settled as a family in Woking, and l lived there till the day l moved away in my late teens/early twenties.
When l first remember schooling of any kind it was of Malaysian schools, due to my Father being in the R.A.A.F and he was based in Butterworth, my school was in Penang a smaller island just off the coastline, and every day l had to arise early [5.15am] to catch the school bus which then headed for the port and boarded the ferry across to the island itself.
Looking back on my school reports from that time, when l was around five or six years of age, and many of those early documents read the same, my handwriting from then till now has always remained the same, and has always been appalling penmanship!
“There is a definite improvement in your sons’ writing although he sometimes puts printing and writing together in his sentences’, yet it would also reflect very heavily upon l feel the personality of each teaching style and of course tutor. All would constantly refer to me needing improvement, although l was at that age classed by one teacher as ‘a well adjusted boy who only requires a gentle push to set him in motion’ so l was not that bad as a youngster according to some.
Mathematics was a poor subject for me, although l love numbers these days, it was not the case when l was younger. I managed very well in the basic formulas, but advanced math was not my forte, and to be honest l can say not once have l ever had the need to utilise algebra or matrices for any of my career choices. Nowadays l can turn numbers very quickly in my head, and see various chains with them; l could not do that back then.
Numbers started talking to me personally when l was around twelve, and from that point it was only really memorable data, such as remembering strings of numerical information, like sixty or seventy telephone numbers in my head. But even l know from my schooling days that it was not the topic per se that was my enemy but the learning process itself.
By 1974 when l was eleven, the teachers then had a very different view of me; l was living in Australia and due to my poor grasp in academics found that l was attending a technical college. Which in all honesty was a nightmare in itself, l have never been a practical person, although l can manage small tasks now, which do not require complicated electrical equipment, but the basics such as hammers and nails or the good old fashioned lump hammer. The college was made up of a mixture of assorted classes which included woodworking, sheet metal work and graphics, art, music, humanities, mathematics and English, PE and health, integrated studies, electrical practice and science.
Australian schooling was very different to British schooling, some have said that it was slightly backward, l am not sure about that, l do know however that when l got back into British schooling, l had to be placed a year behind everyone else, in order to catch up with the administrative side of the teaching. This in itself placed me at times in a serious situation with some teachers.
Academically, the reports from the technical college back in Australia were not that flattering either, with comments of carelessness, untidy, lacking in concentration, does not apply himself, lacks organization and discipline, a slow worker, daydreams, the list was endless. Not all my reports were that bad, l was quiet, always polite, not troublesome, lacked confidence, did well in both music and art, and was considered a bit of a ham. One teacher highlighted l had a natural talent for comedy.
But l did notice that some teachers were calmer with me, treated me well and like a fellow human being, where as some just wanted to herd us all into our classes and back out again. If they took their time to make the class entertaining and not so mundane, then l would respond more favourably, if they didn’t l drifted off. These reports at school, did not help home life, my Father a strict disciplinarian did not like seeing report cards with most of these comments, and would often apply himself at times with as much patience as he could muster but this soon could turn into a version of anger fatigue. However all these years on under his stern guidance l guess paid off, it was not that l did not know the information, it was quite simply that l found most of it as boring as hell.
I was said to be a very poor writer, yet l had an excellent imagination, and that my spelling was downright rotten, yet strangely l never failed spelling tests, and would always approach new words with an excitement. But with Fathers ‘guidance’ l did learn to concentrate more, l think this was out of fear in all honesty, receiving poor cards was most assuredly not on my desired list at home.
Even now, l can concentrate and have more patience and tolerance than many, l find that l can do extremely well at repetitive tasks, and l can go on for hours where as many would and do give up after a short while out of boredom. It’s strange, but l guess not, if something gripped me l would excel, that is still the case now.
Aspergically speaking, back then l did notice a few things different about me, but l was so terrified of my home life, that what ever troubles l experienced at school were nothing. I was quieter than most of the other kids, did not seemingly fit into their clicky groups, was envied by some others despite many attempts of trying to fit in, but never ‘quite managing success’.
I still remember one teachers’ horror when l declared that l was more like Dick Emery, and he assumed that l meant l was ‘gay’, that is most definitely not what l meant, but soon, somehow this stray comment of mine got around school, and this made my school life very uncomfortable. A simple misunderstanding … a simple mix up of words and I was then for a couple of years subjected to abuse and constantly being referred to as a poof, irrelevant to how many times l said that the comedian was not gay himself and l had only meant that l used comedy to try and fit in with everybody.
At thirteen l learned to swear, my Father insisted that l started to defend myself against the bullying, and if this meant telling some one to fuck off then that is what was needed. And so began my days of swearing like a pig farmer! Something that even now stays with me, l am indifferent to swearing, it is simply a second language to me, and l do have some very favourite words, despite the uncaring side to the emotional implications. They are just words to me, at times they fit in. it is not that l can not carry on a conversation without their inclusion, but they are part of me personally, and not as some have referred to it in the past as a mild form of tourettes!
By 1978, now between 14 and 15 years of age, academically l was not that much of a failure anymore but neither was l Einstein; l was still suffering from various poor commentaries from quite a few teachers. I am not blaming them, what they spoke was the truth; l did not specifically apply myself at school. I did lack concentration. I did lack discipline, l was starting to excel in the written classes like English and was taking an active interest in both classical and British history, despite being some what abstractive in my art class, l was imaginative and quirky!
Technical drawing, woodwork, metal work well they were never going to keep me captivated. Religious studies would always have a hard time with me, seeing as one of my teachers told my parents l did not know the difference between Tarzan and Jesus Christ, and as l had a lot of trouble actually believing in the concept of one divine entity, when there were so many choices, and l had a very odd obsession with the occult, they were not on a winner either!
I can still get lost going around a corner, so little wonder that geography and l did not marry, biology and l did get well on well in both animal and human, but as to chemistry, well l was too explorative and was oft found at the end result of experiments going wrong and or explosive to really worry about a future there. I had Hitler for a mathematics teacher, who despised me with a passion, and l her for she reminded me of an absolute dragon! Her comments were most complimentary [NOT], and often referred to me as more than a little behind in grasping the simplicities in life where math was concerned.
I was useless at football or cricket which annoyed my Father somewhat, but did well in archery, tennis, baseball and hockey, my English teacher in my last year l fancied something chronic she was gorgeous and it made this class all the more exciting and beat the pages of Cosmopolitan. But she understood me very well, and coaxed me into discussions and debates, something l had not excelled with previously preferring the quieter role. She described my ability to write at times as being my handicap, that l was tremendously enthusiastic and extremely verbose [ring any bells?].
I failed miserably at French, despite the fact that my teacher was incredibly patient and good natured, he did say that due to my strong accent that l might find German or Arabic a better option, however the latter was not taught, and as German was tutored by the Hitler dragon, l really did not have a chance in that language! I tried to learn Mandarin, but the dragon stepped up to the base and said that l did not have the understanding of math, so what chance was there at learning anything as exotic as that? In all senses of the word, she was a bitch, l know that’s harsh, but l did believe it to be true.
I think it is safe to say that whilst yes many teachers acknowledged l had the ability to demonstrate improvement and certainly had the intelligence to display better results; l simply was not that interested in many of the classes and was often told off for questioning many of the subjects in the first place. Why do we study this, what good are they when we leave school type of questioning?
It was not so much the work side of school life that bothered me, l was after all quite studious, was often caught reading during lunch by fellow students and quickly earned the name of geek and or boffin. Which l think would have surprised my Father if he had known; for he too was under the impression that l must be slow!
It was the social side of things that got to me the most. I did have friends, they were the nerds of the school, and we were the geek squad of our year. We were not popular, or brilliant, and not the most attractive group in attendance but we all clicked and that was the important thing. We were the behind the scenes group, except that we were all perceived as being a little odd by the more popular clicks in school, so were subjected to some off colour humour!
Unfortunately l stood out more because of various factors, l had an Australian accent, was considered eccentric by many, or stupid and retarded by others, and many of the boys in the school suggested to the girls l was homosexual because of my shyness around the opposite sex! It was all very frustrating in truth, and if that was not enough, there was always someone else who thought he could bully me.
I did geeky things, l read a lot, l stayed home, l was a scout, l played hockey rather than the more popular football, l played table top war gaming, l had odd views, l was never invited to any parties or social gatherings, l did not fight for l preferred a calm life rather than a conflictive life, but then l am guessing many of these others did not have the same life l had when at home.
With a disciplinarian and bullying Father at home, l learned at an early age to not fight back, by simply backing down, may have awarded me the title coward, but it was far easier to be that than to face the wrath of my Mother for scuffed shoes or torn clothing. It is very hard indeed growing up in a household where your parents can give you a harder time than your peer group! My Mother wanted me to fit in, my Father only wanted me to achieve, and fitting in was not that important.
Many a time the insults from my Father were much harsher and ruder than anything some of the bullies could throw at me. Ok, so l had the disorder – Aspergers from birth, and l had it at home, but even if my Father was unaware of his, he was the most important person in the house, so his disorder ruled him and us, so there was no space for his eccentric quirky son to be an under achiever. I chose to be an introvert at school, because it was safer!
What l did have to my benefit was the comedy in life; l could basically make people laugh, either by straight talking or acting foolish with pranks. I became known as the court jester in class which was a great way of fitting into many of the peer groups and keeping my own group safe and winning me merits with others except of course the teachers and of course my parents especially my Father!
My Mother as you will have read can see the disorder in my Father but not me, but she is not well read or versed on the subject, she read a single chapter in a book and bases everything she says about the subject on that alone. I know l am an Aspergic, it is not just a label l award myself when it best suits and then find another title when l want to describe something else.
It was l who originally suggested to her that l believed by my Father and his Father were on the spectrum, because with my research l recognised incredible similarities with us and other ‘quirks’ l had found with my reading. My school antics back then were blamed exclusively on my Father’s odd behaviour at the time and his abusiveness and with the latter l do not deny that it did not scar me, even back then l knew l was ticking oddly.
Despite my friendships in school, l was very much the loner, preferring the quieter down time that l had for myself, and filled my bedroom with literature and activities that l could pursue whilst in that comfort zone or bubble, with very little need to venture out of the sanctuary to the loud and busy outside world but also, so l did not have to have any surplus interaction time with my parents when the war path was alive.
I could escape into worlds of fantasy, study ancient and classical histories in my own time, plan and map out strategic battles from warfare, look out of my window and write or draw the wildlife in the foliages of the garden. Here l could be myself, and not continue to pretend that l was someone else, here l did not need to worry about what others thought of my philosophies, politics or religious viewpoints. I needed a constant supply of visual stimulation, in order to continually activate my imagination and after a while, it was able to self motivate itself into inspiration, and l was able to write short stories some of which were published by magazines and newspapers.
Back then l had no knowledge that l was Aspergic, or part of the Autistic spectrum, for it was not really being talked of, it was the eighties, and l remember them very well. I am often caught saying things like ‘well back in the eighties, or you do not know about music, for the real music came from the eighties’
I was at college during this wondrous era, studying catering to be a chef, well in reality to become a manager, and my eccentric behaviour back then was hidden in the folds of that way of life. For we were all rather exciting odd individuals, so it would be hard to say who was odder! During this time, l was social, l was accepted, l was seen as a fun loving person, who although quiet and at times naïve in many ways, did no or offered no harm to people. It was easier to befriend girls, although still l was shy around them, and stuck to my own peer group; we became very close as a family and had similar stories of life that we could share.
But then, l was still the fool, for humour was my best performance skill, it was a natural talent with me, if l could make people laugh then l was one of them. And they did all so laugh very loud and hard at my antics. It was this that got me through some of my harder times, combined with the fact that as l was working in the catering industry, l was not at home as much, so did not have to suffer any further humiliations from my Father. He was still bewildered as to why l never had a girlfriend, but hey l was mixing with girls and as such perhaps l was not gay, but just slow and retiring, and quite possibly shy.
I passed in college, l am a chef, not perhaps the most gifted chef in the UK, and l most assuredly would not ever worry the likes of Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay, but l can make a mean salad, and am a whiz kid with meat and fish dishes and sauces, not forgetting the child like ability to blow the minds of most kids with my dessert creations.
Schooling as such did not just stop here in the mainstream education system; l studied and continued to study hard for other skills, when l entered the professional market place in a career capacity. But that is another story.
When l look back through all of my education years, as l have said, l do not class them in any shape or form as the best years of my life, for those occurred after l left schooling. I had some times; good days, classes and experiences, but none of them ever outshone time after that. The greatest learning curve l ever participated in was ‘actually life’ itself! It taught me more than the teachers could ever hope to achieve with me. When l was at school as a youngster, many a time l was bored, not stupid as my Father or some of the educators believed, but bored. Things went slowly, too slowly and my fast mind, even at that age was progressing through content quickly and faster than my peers.
It was supposition that suggested by both my Father and the education system that l as an individual would amount to nothing worthwhile in the future and after l left the teaching system and why did they think that?
Was it because l could not grasp or appeared to have no interest in French or Welsh as languages to learn, that l failed to recognise the usefulness of matrices and algebra in mathematics, that l did not fully accept the learning’s of the only one religion present or that l personally could not understand the merits of technical drawing?
And yet, creativity was present, l excelled in the art classes, sure l was not brilliant at drawing ‘still life’ because it lacked movement, l drew life that displayed colour, l adored colours. I would not make a musician, but l could piece music sets together, and had a very clear understanding of instruments and how they sat. I was not a scientist, but l understood human and animal biology’s, l disliked cooking class, but could at least cook and do fairly well in experimental dishes.
l adored words, reading, writing, debates and story telling and l also had the ability to make people laugh. I may not have been ‘gifted’ in their eyes, but l was not without my own skills.
Years on from those days, l can look back and say, by the time l approached my early twenties l had already achieved more than most of my peers had, l had run three of my own business enterprises and l wrote stories for pocket money. No, l was not Mr Popular perhaps but l was wealthier than them in not just finances, l had the ability to think for myself and create something from nothing, which in my eyes was way more of an accomplishment than the early suppositions of amounting to a ‘nobody!’ And by my thirties again l had another business under my belt and high management experience and by my mid forties, l had held down another very prosperous and creative business.
According to many from that time ago, my lights were on, but nobody was home, l did not have an understanding of certain subjects that were deemed the normal topics of progression for students and yet the irony is that of those topics l failed to ‘grasp’ to the eyes of many of my educators and my Father, in all of my business ventures to date l have used both the experience that l took from school and the life learning curve to better myself and more importantly – l have been successful.
Back then, l had many struggles to contend with of my own, more so than most of my peers! An education system that believed l was slow; a Father that thought l was stupid and pushed me to be an academic and a Mother who encouraged me to display more creativity! No one really took on board the pressure l was under going daily, no one knew about the stresses at home, and when at home very few knew what l did to teach myself other things. I read and continued to read many books on not just one genre, but l read everything, anything that held words. I loved to draw and paint and l did that.
It was not hard for me to learn, it was not that which l had problems with at all, it was my mind, l found it hard to concentrate with everything that was going on in there. I was always a deep thinker, l used to analyse and over work problems to find solutions. I took on board everything that was taught to me, but failed at times to understand the relevancy of certain topics and how they might help me in twenty years.
The problem was and still is that the education system walks a predetermined structure of learning, if you are normal you will perform well, if you are not, and maybe in their eyes slower then you will do badly. The predetermined curriculum of learning in the schooling system is very head strong, they yearn to install an academic approach to everything to make ‘better people’ for tomorrow, and yet even today they still insist of pushing out the arts, therefore rendering ‘creative and imaginative’ students flawed before they even truly begin their journey.
If they want people to succeed in my eyes then they should allow ‘creative imaginations’ a place setting in their systems. Back then, they had no clear idea how to make me perform to the best of their ability, yet sadly they were simply unable to clearly see that l was performing and l was doing it very well
Chapter 8 – Ep 12 – Soon