Sensory Confusion, Autistic Attachment to the Same, Favorite Sweater (Eraser Balls)
An Autistic POV: why wearing the same thing all year was soothing
Attachment To The Same Thing as a Soothing Ritual
Fifth grade. “What's with the sweater?” Jason asked.
I thought, I got straight-A’s last year. Think of an answer. I was squinting, trying to be smart enough to make sense of the oversized clock on the wall which had ‘Roman’ numerals. I could cheat a little because I could count to where the number should be and write down the correct answer. However, when the assignment called for a number over twelve, I was clueless. This strange math is what he was supposedly helping me with. I was the “calm in the eye”. The classroom was the storm. Teachers were starting to remark about my 'uneven abilities:' college level aptitude in some areas and sucky math ability. This is how I got the tutor...
“You wear that sweater every day. Don't you have any other clothes?” Jason, my tutor said. I nodded.
“Why don't you talk for cripes sake? This is great. Just ‘cause I'm smart I gotta waste my time on a dummy who can't talk or do math and wears sweaters every day in this weather. It's almost Summer for cripes sake!”
I loved my white sweater; soft like a rabbit. It was the first time I'd ever had a male teacher. He was witty; always making jokes. The kids; they laughed as if on cue; as if they were supplied beforehand with scripts I did not have.
As if a sign flashed in the room that I could not see: Laugh now! Laugh!
They not only laughed at his ‘playful’ kidding, but seemed to enjoy it. I wished for ‘canned’ laughter like on TV that I could operate when the others laughed... His words were riddles I couldn't solve. Although I sensed he was loved by all the kids; perhaps more than any teacher I'd had thus far, I could not relate. I wanted the teacher I had the year before: the lady with her black hair wrapped into a twist; secured on her head.
In this classroom, I did not understand why suddenly we were to replace ordinary numbers with ‘roman’ numerals which were lines and not symbols at all. I was not Roman. I resisted learning the new replacements and for the first time ever I struggled in school and was given an impatient ‘tutor’ to help teach me math during class.
I liked Jason. He produced artwork with a sure placement of lines and he liked to wonder aloud, “Who's the best artist? Me, you, Eddie, or Dawn?” He didn't get an answer from me. I didn't believe in “the best”.
No matter how many times he explained Roman numerals to me, I sat with pencil poised over paper; frozen. My mind could not get it. He became angry with me and belittled my appearance instead. I couldn't fathom how I could provoke respect from him for my artistic abilities but also antagonism. “She wears that every day for cripe's sake!” He would say; and look around to see if anyone was as perturbed by me as he was.
It became necessary to skip school on gym days. I would stand there and balls would bounce off my face before I’d tell my hands to do something in time. I liked square dance and the solitary activities like sit ups but the group things had rules I didn’t understand. ‘Whiffer Whiffer’ the kids would call. And guess who was always chosen last?
School Avoidance Begins
Gym was on Monday. The red-bearded fifth grade teacher told my mother I must have ‘Mondayitis’. The classroom was as stressful as gym class that year. Maybe more-so. Fifth grade was a year of awareness on many levels. I had to cut back somewhere to preserve energy. Gym class had to go. Sometimes, I'd slip into the girls’ bathroom when the kids went to class. (Oh I loved it in there all alone, getting to know the dark hunter green stalls; chipping away the paint with the corners of a sharp stone. Writing a nasty word on the stall door like ‘poup!’ I always thought ‘poop’ was spelled like soup.) I’d pop back out and file into line when class was over but they were onto me in no time. Other times on Mondays my mother came to expect a war getting me to go to school.
It was a playful atmosphere in his classroom. Boy did that spontaneity set me on edge! Innuendo was alien. ‘Learning’ games involved moving desks out of their routine arrangements! Nothing was routine in there! We often sat on the floor in informal groupings, sheer terror! How did one sit upon a floor, accidentally touching other kids’ limbs with our feet and with no desk for to put one’s elbows? And still learn!? Where did you put your eyes, then? My grades went down and I was not happy about that.
I probably wore my sweater all year, every day. Tiny buttons and feathery to the touch. I craved routine and structure, not informality and spontaneity. The sameness of the sweater kept me from disappearing completely.
I tried. Since he said he liked a neat classroom, I kept my desk exceptionally in order. If it was crammed with papers and books with torn book covers, it would draw his attention on me. I wanted to blend in as much as I could, to prove I was “as normal” as anyone else. One day we stood in the lunch line at the side of the room. I could look into the mouths of the desks, and I knew mine was the neatest. Then he made a joke at me.
“Kim, do you really think you're going to make that many mistakes?” He was pulling on his beard and he had that amused grin again. The others apparently ‘got’ the joke because several were holding their hands to their mouths or stomachs and laughing. Oh dear oh dearohdearohdearohdear
I cocked my head to the side. Shuffled in place in line. Should I laugh and pretend I 'got' the joke?...or did the joke have meaning and require an answer from me?...did the joke call for some action from me?...I just couldn't know...Just great. He may as well have said, ‘hey did you notice that the schmip was schmop?’ I didn’t know what the H double hockey sticks he was getting at!
“I think you should take all but one of the erasers home. I'm confident you won't make that many mistakes in my class.” He said.
Most of the class was shuffling, laughing like ocean waves- in sync. Did he say ‘erasers?’ So that was it! They were clearly visible from his vantage point; lined up uniformly in the front of my desk: I stacked them three-high and four-high... Little eraser towers.
There was my six inch eraser I'd gotten from a souvenir shop with ‘Niagara Falls’ painted on the front in black ink. Stacked on that big one were my small rectangular pink ones, seven eight or nine of them maybe. One white eraser was in there. It could erase ink. Propped beside those were my multi-colored ones shaped like spacecraft. I had aliens too with eraser arms that I'd gotten from cereal boxes. There were pink and green and blue ones too with holes in them so you could top a pencil with them. How I liked collections of things that were alike but different too…but I digress again.
Amidst the staring eyes and laughing, was the teacher, anxious to send us all down to lunch, smiling and casually fingering the pockets of his neatly seamed slacks. I scooped first the alien erasers up and stuffed them in the pockets of my own pants (the ones my mother insisted on calling 'khakis'). I crammed in eraser after eraser into my pockets. (I'd always liked the movie where Jerry Lewis is mute through the entire picture...I reminded myself of him that day and weeks later when I saw the movie again with my father on a Sunday afternoon.) I tried to force the six inch eraser, my favorite, into my bulging pocket but it was not fitting. Fresh laughter from my ‘peers’ as I shoved and rearranged my pocket and tried to force that big eraser in; but my pockets were already bulging with lumps.
“I think you can put that colossal one in your desk until the end of the day. Just don't forget to bring it home with you today, okay?” he said, grinning. He gave his sideburns a rub.
Okay so now he tells me- I put the big one in the front of the desk and one little pink one directly in the center of it. I returned to the line pinching the bumps in my pants. Could he next demand I not wear my sweater?
Pink and so soft, my erasers smelled perfect when I sneaked them to my nose during classroom discussions. They came in every shape and size. Various colors too, but pink smelled best. Why, I'd just started my collection! I'd have to find a special place at home for them now; perhaps next to the pencil shavings collection. I had boxes of shavings! (Long curling spirals! You had to handle those with care or they’d break on you-I had some pretty long ones.) But then I'd not be able to appreciate the erasers in class, which was where I really needed them.
Could I one day rub the sides of them smooth until they formed perfectly round and soft pink balls of many sizes? Would they then bounce? Would it be easiest to rub the corners against paper until a sphere took shape? Or rub the corners away on the inside of the desk itself? Would some balls be easier to shape depending on the brand of eraser? Oh, how I'd planned on cherishing my eraser balls...planned on filling little yellow boxes with the eraser balls to keep forever.
It had always been my plan to rub each of my erasers into tiny balls by smoothing the corners on the inside of my desk. I'd rid of the eraser ‘shavings’ carefully, maybe even save them! I'd planned to work on that project with my hands concealed in my desk forming the eraser balls during their joyous lessons. Now I'd never get the chance.
There were other fifth grade issues. I learned to hang my left leg so both legs faced the aisle. So both legs could get kicked evenly. On the home front, Mommy was asking questions about the bruises on my one leg. I had the solution. By trying to put them both in the aisle, Holly could sashay by me to the front of the classroom to sharpen a pencil and whallop them both instead of just the one or Mommy would never believe I was accidentally bumping just one. Holly would stall by the teacher's desk, twirling her blonde hair and asking a question about her assignment. She was one of his favorites; the class athlete. On her way back to her desk she kicked my shin. Hard. I tried to poke the other leg her way. Please kick both evenly, kick me evenly my mind begged, or don’t kick at all. All the while she smiled her prettiest smile. I concentrated on the smells of paste and paint from the cabinet in the back of the room.
I Was A Riddle
Sometimes I thought Holly invented reasons to pass by me. I smiled back; lips pursed together, eyes blurring out static movement in the room. I knew that Holly, like Uncle Rodney, decided meanspiritedness would solve me. I was a riddle, a challenge. Holly would solve me if she had to kick the answer out of me. But the reaction she evoked was my typical serious, polite logical persona. This was me. I thought Holly didn't know that flesh and pride wounded even people like me who did not express hurt with their features. Some people need SO much ‘feedback
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I wish they'd had these sensory friendly things when I was a kid-BTW I own one of these!
An insightful article by a Special Ed. Teacher about attachment to same
- Wearing the Same Clothes
An attachment to wearing the same thing is a common autistic trait-I couldn't have known this when I was an undiagnosed child, responding to the stress of becoming a preteen and also having the first male teacher I'd ever had. Very well written.