What having autism is like in high school

Stop trying to “fix” us.

What having autism is like in high school

Jade Parkinson, Reporter

Imagine you’re talking with your friends during English class, and suddenly, with a sickening feeling growing in your chest, without warning, you can feel everything. Every little tiny noise, every single painful voice around you is overlapping like a twisted circus where every act is happening at the same time, and every scrape, every tap of a pencil, every word spoken is agonizing. 

Your chest is rising and falling at a quickening pace to the point where you can hardly breathe. You try to escape, try to leave this sensory nightmare, but the second you step outside, you are blinded by furious rays of sunlight. 

It feels as if every sense is attacking you at once, and the worst part is that everyone around you is staring at you like you’re insane because they can’t possibly conceive what torment you’re going through at this very moment. 

What I just described to you is an example of sensory overload, and autistic people, including myself, go through this on a regular basis.

We as autistic people take in the world differently than the average person. We’re far more aware of our senses and the world around us. Noises are louder, lights are brighter, and everything has a specific texture. So it’s easy for us to feel like all these different things are overwhelming. 

Every autistic person though has different limits and different triggers. I, for one, find overlapping and high pitched noises very hard to handle and will often shut down if they are too much. However, I know other people who are more sensitive to light, texture, smell, and many other things.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this – being an autistic person in high school is quite difficult simply because the way that school works is backwards to us. It’s loud, stressful, and full of so many different triggers all at once. 

It’s loud, stressful, and full of so many different triggers all at once.”

The social rules and skills that many have learned and become accustomed to are completely alien, and at worst, downright frustrating. I personally have always found the basic back and forth of a regular conversation pretty boring. 

However, if you were to ask an autistic person about their specific interest, they could talk for hours and go into every single tiny detail until you end up knowing just as much about their interest as them. These interests are very important to us and are often a massive comfort.

They can range from large and complex topics like philosophy or social justice to something as specific as a single movie, but whatever the topic is, you can be sure there is passion. 

For example, one of my own specific interests is musical theater – stuff like Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables,  Wicked, and Sweeney Todd. I could write so many in depth essays about why I adore these musicals, but if I have to write about something that means nothing to me, it’s pretty damn difficult.

There is such a heavy pressure put on autistic folks to act “normal.” From a young age, we are basically trained to act against our own nature. 

We are expected to speak back when spoken to, maintain eye contact even if it’s painful for us to do so, and act like the “ordinary” students. We can’t flap our hands or rock back and forth when we’re happy because it makes others uncomfortable. We can’t leave when we’re overstimulated because we’re “overreacting,” even when we’re on the verge of a breakdown. 

To put it simply, when everyone is young, they are told that it’s okay to be odd or weird or out of the norm in any way, but as we grow older, we learn that’s a lie. Once you learn why you’re different and that there is an explanation for your oddities, suddenly you are put in programs and taught you have to be normal or what society defines as normal.

Well, I just want to say we ARE normal, just not the type society wants us to be. We ARE NOT a puzzle to be solved – contrary to what organizations like Autism Speaks try to preach.

We ARE NOT broken, and we DO NOT need to be fixed.