I am a woman with Asperger's Syndrome - The lost puppy dog
A young child
As a child with Aspergers, without even knowing what that was or that I had it, I was often referred to as the lost puppy dog. These are hurtful memories for me, but it just makes me realize just how socially awkward I actually was as a young girl.
I had a bad temper when I was young. My family had to tiptoe around me and be careful to not say the "wrong" things to me. I could never have a group of friends and could only, if lucky enough, have one good friend. I only have fragments of memories before my school years but remember how easily I mistook what people were saying. I was a ticking time bomb a lot of the time and my family knew it.
So I was a difficult, shy child. Nothing was ever done about it, that's just the way I was. Unfortunately my family would continue to have to tip toe around me until I was in my early/mid 20's.
I remember only being able to be with one friend at a time. And once I got bored or wanted my alone time that was it, that friend had to go home! Once primary started I began to become more aware of myself, and other kids. And this awareness wasn't good.
The lost puppy dog
I am sure everyone on the spectrum has stories to tell about their early school years and how difficult and confusing it was for them. You know your different but you can't quite figure out why or how, assuming you do not have a diagnosis. You try to fit in but keep failing over and over again and don't understand why. You try hard to make friends and to be accepted into a group but cannot seem to do it, or do it quite right.
This is a confusing time. And for me it was quite depressing as well. Even as a very young child I would succumb to depression, mostly out of confusion at that time. I would soon be labelled "the lost puppy dog" for my efforts for fitting in were a failure.
I had girl friends that I really liked in the early school years but I could never play with them if more kids were involved, so I was mostly alone in school. But I wanted to be like the other kids and I wanted to be liked and I wanted to fit in so I would start to trail behind groups of kids in hopes they would accept me. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I was clueless. I didn't know how you were supposed to make friends and I didn't know how to make people like me. So all I would do was trail behind other kids that I wanted to maybe hang out with and hope for the best. But one day I was called a lost puppy dog and that hurt me more than anyone would ever know. Then they would look at me and laugh. It might have taken me a while to understand what "lost puppy dog" meant but I did eventually get it.
And yes, I suppose I was a lost puppy dog. I had no guidance or direction, no one to tell me what to do. I was on my own and with an autism spectrum disorder that was not diagnosed. I had to try to figure things out by myself.
I was very sad after this, and I stopped following around the kids I wanted to hang out with. I would stay by myself until one of my girl friends would come to me and want to play. I loved that with all my heart. Wow. She wants to play with ME and just me! I would feel very special. But these girls I was friends with also had many other friends and would prefer to play in groups. That was not my thing.
I remember, in early elementary school, just wandering around by myself at recess and lunch, and I would start to develop a lot of anxiety at this time. The words "lost puppy dog" would repeat in my head and I would feel more down about myself.
Jeez. I was just a child. But according to everyone who knew me I was just shy, and had a quick temper. I didn't need "help". But wow did I ever need help.
Who can I be friends with?
School was hard and it is hard for anyone on the spectrum. How to make friends? Who will accept me for who I am? Who will actually like me? After your beat down you get discouraged and just want to give up. But I didn't fully give up. I gave up on the girls, but found out I felt more comfortable with the boys!
Once I started paying more attention to the boys in my class I realized that they were who I wanted to hang out with. None of them were mean to me or called me names. The boys were funny and silly, class clowns if you will, and I really liked that. They made me laugh, maybe too much in class! But I felt happy.
I sat by a boy my age who couldn't for the life of him be serious so my days were full of laughter, or trying to hold in my laughter! And I could relax and finally feel OK at school. I did still have my very few select girl friends but could still only play with them alone, no other girls allowed. I felt more comfortable in groups of boys, but still liked the one on one the most.
Those were probably the best times in my early school years. Figuring out that I was more comfortable with boys. I still knew I wasn't quite normal and something was "off" with me but I could be happy and laugh at school and I liked that.
- Signs of Asperger's Syndrome
Asperger's syndrome is a neurological disorder in the family of autism spectrum disorders. Because every child exhibits a different set of symptoms, there is no precise checklist of behaviors that must all be present for a diagnosis. Instead, there a
Learning from past "mistakes"
I don't really call it a mistake that I would follow kids around, trail behind them hoping they would notice me and want to play with me. I was trying. Sure I failed but I tried. I get discouraged awfully easy though so if I fail at something I probably will never willingly ever attempt it again.
Once I was in grades 5 to 7 I was still not even attempting to make friends. But I could tell that some girls in my classes were really nice to me and I probably could have been friends with them, if I had tried. But I was too scared.
I still liked the boys better so I concentrated on them still more than the girls.
Since I was so stand off-ish the other kids in my classes would start to not pick me to be in their groups to do class projects, or to go on field trips. Usually I would have to go alone with the teacher! The realization of all of this didn't quite hit until grade 8 and that's when I learned to let others in. If someone was making contact with me and showing me that they might be interested in being a friend I would let them. I still would not seek out friends, however. They would have to come to me.
I don't think I've really made mistakes looking back, but yes I did do things in a strange, not acceptable way. But was it my fault? No. I did have to try and teach myself not to let others words hurt me though. That took a long time. Things stick with me, forever it seems.
In high school I had a small group of girl friends who were kind of strange like me. We were not popular at all! But that was OK because we could all get along so well and we didn't have to hide any of our "strange behavior". I was still drawn to the class clowns, the silly boys, but felt happy with my small group of friends.
If I had decided not to let them in I would have been without a single friend all through high school.
Trying to teach my son
My son is also on the spectrum and I've had to endure much heartache at his school when dropping him off in the morning. He would do the exact same thing I would. He would sit alone, or wander aimlessly, alone. If he was sitting it would appear that he was observing the crowd of kids, watching closely to what they were doing, perhaps trying to learn. But my heart, it would ache. My son is also a "lost puppy dog". But it's not his fault. People on the spectrum just don't have it in them to know what to do. It does not come to us automatically. Especially at a young age, we are quite clueless. We need guidance.
Watching my son in the school yard became too much for me. Changes were made for him at the school and he no longer has to spend time outside at recess or lunch. He can avoid his own heartache over being alone, and trying to figure out why no one likes him. He does fun things now like plays on the computer and gets to unwind in quiet rooms.
He's told me, quite a few times, what bothers him and it's hard for him to open up to me, about anything. Either he will say he has no friends, or he just doesn't know WHAT to do when he's outside! See he has no routine in place. Everything is up in the air and for typical children that is fine! They like that! For kids on the spectrum it can be hell. He actually just didn't know what to do during those times.
He has a good friend and he seems completely content with having just that one friend. They are around the same age but differ greatly in size. His friend is quite small for his age, and my boy probably likes that because he has an obvious difference. When my boy use to go outside for recess and lunch he would chose a primary kid to play with and my boy is in grade 4. There has to be some kind of difference in that child for my son to be interested enough in. That takes me back to when I was young in school choosing the silly boys over the girls. The boys were different and I was different so I wanted to be with them.
My son is 9 as I write this and still has no clue on how to approach other kids, and how to make friends. It seems he does what I use to do and waits until someone comes to HIM.
I am very glad he does have that one good friend. He may not want to hang out with him all the time, preferring to spend time alone as most people on the spectrum do. But he gets in these "moods" where he wants to play and may do so for a few days. Then he will need time to recover! And recharge his batteries. It could take him a few weeks to come back around.
I want to teach my son everything that I have learned. I don't want him to suffer like I did in school. With the changes we've made during recess and lunch he's a much happier boy and definitely is more comfortable in school. I am glad. So glad!
Diagnosed vs. Undiagnosed
My son at least can grow up knowing why he is a bit different. For me, and for many others, there were no answers! I grew up in the 80's and never once heard of the term "Autism". It is much different these days. And that makes me happy.
I think if I had had a diagnosis as a child things would have been MUCH different. The confusion would be gone, I would know why I was different, and I would know why I couldn't make friends. Just having those answers alone would have given me much relief. Without any diagnosis I'm left to wander, like a lost puppy dog, with so many questions that were never answered until I was in my early 30's. It was hell, I will admit it, it was hell.
Children who are diagnosed can get the help they need starting when they are young. They can get that guidance that I so desperately needed but never got. They can have special programs in place for them at school and a constant routine for them to follow. They can learn about making friends, and being social. They can learn what is appropriate, or not, in social situations.
A diagnosis can make changes beyond what I could write in words. If you have a child that you think may be on the spectrum, or you even think yourself might be, don't hesitate to start making a move in the right direction. Get the assessments done. It's a lengthy process but worth it in the end.