Asperger's Is My First Language
I used to pretend that I was just passing through this family on my way to my real one. It wasn’t too much of a stretch, really—there was my brother Mikey, the spitting image of my Dad in personality and math skills; and my sisters, Ariana and Zoe, the spitting images of my Mom in personality and writing talent; and then there was me, a collection of recessive genes involving mental health problems, including my Asperger’s, that came out of left field. I was a kid in elementary school, Macy Ann Kaplan, A. K. A. the freak. I used to be a total outcast. I couldn’t multiply one times zero; I had an imaginary friend named Jellanina; and once in science class I literally scared a girl away when I tried to talk to her. No one ever talked to me, in case freakhood was contagious. But then one afternoon, the principal notified everyone that I had Asperger’s, and that everyone should thus be nice to me.
After that, no one was mean to me anymore. If one kid passed me in the hall, they smiled. If I sat next to someone at the lunch table, they nodded hello. It was as if being a walking mental illness canceled out ever having been an outcast. F From the moment I was diagnosed at age four, I have been the girl with Asperger’s. A All my life people have assumed that since I have Asperger’s, they must be extra nice to me; teachers have given me extra help; principals have known me by name. i No one is ever outright mean to me. I It makes me wonder how I’d be treated if I were like everyone else. i Maybe I’m a pretty rotten person, not that anyone would ever have the guts to tell me this to my face. i Maybe everyone thinks I’m rude or ugly or stupid but they have to be nice because it could be the Asperger’s that make me that way. I It makes me wonder if the faults I have are just my true nature. O One day when I was not in a Special Education session with the Special Ed teachers, I actually pretended to be a regular kid. I sat down with the rest of the mainstream class and listened to the teacher lecture us about U. S. history. I made my own drawing of Abigail Adams. My Special Ed teachers brought two sets of di out to the desks, and we students fought over who would be granted the right to roll the di and win. A fellow student named Kayla Huang and I were given the honors. Before I got a good grip on my di, my Special Ed teacher leaned close and whispered into Kayla’s ear, “Let her win. ” So I shut my eyes tight and thought hard of losing to Kayla, and got a nasty satisfaction out of the fact that I did not win the roll of the di. f After we were let out of class for recess, the recess aides took us students outside for a game of two team-on-two team touch football while my Special Ed teachers were in the school.
They came outside when my opposing team had already scored twice. “Please,” she said, “tell the other kids to go easy on Mace. ” She didn’t have to say anything else—the school staff and students had all seen me tumble like an ordinary kid and wind up doing something klutzy like slip and fall off my desk chair. Physical clumsiness was, after all, a physical symptom of Asperger’s. w “Aw, come on. ” The gym teacher turned up the wattage on her smile. “Macy’s on my team. I won’t let her get sacked. ” “Trust me,” she said, and then she threw the football to me. W What I remember about that day was the way the ground bit back when you sat on it—the first hint of winter. I remember being blocked by a kid from the opposing team, who braced himself in a pushup so that I got none of the weight and all of his heat. I remember my Special Ed teacher, cheering equally for both teams. A And I remember Kayla Huang (part of the opposing team), throwing the ball to a teammate of hers named Michael Schwartz, but me getting in the way—an expression of absolute shock on my face as it landed in the cradle of my arms and the gym teacher yelled me on to the touchdown. I sprinted, and nearly had it, but then Michael took a running leap and slammed me to the ground, crushing me underneath him. I In that moment everything stopped. I lay with my arms and legs splayed, unmoving.
My gym teacher was there in a breath, yelling at Michael. “What is the matter with you!” i “I forgot!” My Special Ed teacher: “Where does it hurt? Can you sit up?” B But when I rolled over, I was smiling. “It doesn’t hurt. It feels great. ” M My Special Ed teacher and my gym teacher looked at each other. Neither of them understood like I did—that no matter who you are, there is some part of you that always wishes you were someone else so no one could make assumptions about you—and when, for a millisecond, you get that wish, it’s a miracle. “He forgot,” I said to nobody, and I lay on my back, beaming up at the cold hawkeye sun.
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