Growing up With Autism without a Diagnosis: Part 2 Kindergarten through 3rd Grade

School was an interesting time. Kindergarten was challenging because of my deficiencies in motor skills that children were expected to have. My letter and number recognition skills, though, were great because of my interest in both areas before I ever went to Kindergarten. I had a set of favorite letters with “W” definitely being my favorite. Among numbers, my childhood favorite was nine though it became seventy-nine in 1993. Twenty-six is my favorite number now, but seventy-nine is my second favorite number, and I still like nine to this day. My knowledge of letters and numbers, had me placed in the advanced reading section during kindergarten. As a side note, I have always picked my favorite numbers and letters based on the looks of the symbols, and how their names sound in the English language.


I knew my colors early—even olive, lavender and tan. I had a book, Do You Know Colors that I loved that I received for Easter one year. My favorite color has always been green, and when I say favorite color, I really mean it. As a young child when given the option of what color clothes to wear, I always chose the option of wanting to be a “green bean” rather than a “cardinal” (red) or a “blue jay” (blue). I chose green for everything I had a chance to. Sometimes it wasn’t to my advantage as some things that came in green were not in my best interest such as bar soap. It was suggested by my allergist that Dove soap would be the best kind for my skin, and it only came in pink and white. At Grandma and PapPap’s house, I discovered there was green soap (Irish Spring) that I liked to look at though it wouldn’t be the best on my skin, as I heard it was a harsh soap. Not only did I know my colors, I would take my magnetic letters, and spell out their names. One such memory is spending one afternoon in the closed-in porch spelling color words.


Kindergarten had some very good qualities among the difficulties. Firstly, I met who would be my best friend during most of my elementary school days. He would “take care of me at school.” With school also came riding the bus, which took me on new interesting roads. I remember riding home one day from kindergarten looking out the left window and seeing the back of a barn and house that I recognized from Fairgrounds Road, a road my family would heavily use when we went most places. I thought this was the neatest thing!


On the more difficult side, was my misunderstanding of school movies. I found it scary when I was watching a movie and the credits all of the sudden showed up. It’s like, I didn’t understand that the movie was over or something. An example of such a movie was Geoffrey’s Video Library: The Animal Alphabet. It seemed to me to jump from showing animals for each letter of the alphabet to the movies credits which was over the clip that showed the letters C, D and E. I found it scary, and it was an early obsession I had to deal with. I wanted to get the ending out of my mind, but couldn’t. I was dealing with this way into the evening as I remember Mom and I being in the basement (mostly a family room with a large section used as a play area and a smaller section for watching television) and Mom wanting to go upstairs. For whatever the reason, I had taken apart numerous board puzzles at the same time creating a mess. I couldn’t leave the mess in the basement, and I was afraid to stay down there alone because of my recurring thoughts. Somehow, I put the puzzles back together while Mom talked about making chocolate popsicles the next day, which she did.


Later in the year, I also watched another movie I misunderstood from that year. Animal characters were at a circus and somehow due to a magic trick started to get stuck together by their hands and couldn’t break free. This also did the number on me, and I was leery of stars for a while after this as stars were on the magician’s blue hat.


At home during this year came some important events. That Christmas season is when my favorite two Christmas cookies (Jam Filled Cookies, and Candy Cane Cookies) were made for the first time. My grandparents on my mom’s side had Christmas lights with large bulbs outside on their metal railing. My parents bought me a really neat Christmas ornament from the school fundraiser that year. It was a cat ornament that showed a mother cat with her kitten, and contained a bell. When we received the ornament, it was a little dull, and Mom painted it up brighter. Mom made many Christmas magnets and Christmas ornaments by either stitching them on plastic canvas or by pouring plaster of Paris into molds from a kit. Physical Therapy started which would be the first of many appointments that would help improve my abilities, that allowed me to get as far as I have. We went to see “Miss Carolyn”(my P.T.) frequently in Carlisle, plus did PT homework at home including uses of wooden rounded sticks, and a large green exercise ball that we had to buy from her office.


Kindergarten was also the only year where every student’s birthday was celebrated at school even if they were born in the summer. All the June, July and August birthdays were celebrated at the end of the year. The “birthday crown” that was made for all such students, I also chose to wear on June 27th, the day of my 6th birthday. My cake that year featured roads, a railroad track, little road signs on small sticks and also a school house.


Elementary school was much smoother sailing than kindergarten was. I definitely still had some difficulties, but I liked school, and I liked my teachers. There were a number of hurdles in first grade. I needed help finding my classroom. My teacher marked the classroom for me with balloons by hanging them on the doorway. My writing was illegible. Every week I needed to copy spelling words to learn for spelling class. The teacher gave me a green Modern notebook, and I typed my spelling words in the classroom. The spelling list was then glued into my notebook so I would have the words, and they would be legible.


To combat difficulties in legibility of my answers for spelling tests, I used magnetic letters. I have had magnetic letters at home for years (at least since Christmas of 1984), and have enjoyed playing with them. Once Mom bought some magnetic letters for her reading class (students with reading issues) when she taught in Spring Grove School District. I was allowed to play with the them for the few days before Mom took them to school. I bring this up because I really liked the shininess of these magnetic letters, and was sad to see them go. I did not have enough magnetic letters to fill my needs to use them as the “writing tool” for my spelling tests. My family made a special trip on the weekend to Kiddie City in Hanover so I could pick four packs of Playskool magnetic letters. On the way back, when we drove by lighted buildings, I would take a package out of the bag and look at them. Dad worked at a corrugated box plant in Biglerville, and was able to get a box made with twenty-six compartments to store multiple copies of every letter I would need for spelling class. We took the box to school, and it was stored in the back of the classroom until I needed it on Fridays.


During the school day, I didn’t want to get out of my seat even when it was allowed. Since the normal expectation was to stay in your seat during class time, it didn’t feel correct to get up even when allowed. An example of when this was a hinderance was when the class was writing numbers on tablet paper. The issue was, every student only was given one sheet and my writing was larger than normal. Students could go up to the teacher’s desk and get another sheet if needed, though I wasn’t comfortable doing this. I knew my numbers so I was good at this task. I ran out of space when I got as far as sixty-three. It took me awhile to get out of my seat, and walk up to the desk to get a second sheet of paper (I chose to raise my hand and ask). The result was running out of time somewhere in the eighties.


Gym was hard because of my lack of athletic skills that, in my case, were due to autism, poor motor skills, plus low muscle tone. Twice during elementary school, in addition to my normal physical education class with my peers, I also was in an adaptive class with the first time being in first grade. On day one of the adaptive class, I remember the teacher and I walking around on the playground. I discovered the school water fountain and also an interesting structure which contained a drain pipe. These were located in the grass to the left of all the playground equipment. Normally this area was occupied by boys who were playing football. As for what normally happened in gym class, I practiced skills required for the various activities used in class. If an exercise was difficult such as jumping-jacks, we broke them down into two separate parts to work on before putting them back together as a single unit.


Second grade had its own set of challenges. During this year the back wing of the school was built partway through the year, so it was noisy during class. Normally, I kept to myself at recess. This bothered my mom, but I was content coming up with my own ways to entertain myself. I had few friends, but I felt the friends I had were good. My teacher encouraged me to play with students at recess. During mid-year there were several students that I had played with at recess. This year I was still using the typewriter for schoolwork at school. We also started cursive writing, which I found intriguing, but I wasn’t great at it. I remember part way through the year when the alphabet chart was changed from the alphabet in print to the alphabet in cursive.


My third grade year brought a number of changes. High schoolers and elementary students didn’t ride the bus together anymore. The bus routes changed, and I rode a new bus. From the onset of this year, to get to my bus stop I simply climbed the hill in my backyard and stood at the end of the private road by the stop sign. The bus now went over Big Flat (a mountainous area north of where I used to live), and the ride was around an hour long both directions. There were two third grade classes. Luckily, I was in the section with my friend, though when I heard there was going to be two sections, I had the fear that I might not be. The back wing of the school was finished now and that is where the third through sixth grade classrooms were. Students originally had a morning and afternoon recess besides the lunch recess, but now the morning recess was for the primary grades and the afternoon recess was for intermediate grades. My school now had a computer lab with Apple IIGS computers.


I now was able to type my classwork on the computer, which was more efficient and made less noise. The delete key was much better for correcting mistakes than the correction key on a typewriter. As for the computer lab itself, classes had a chance to play educational games on the computer. To use the computers the main screen had the six grade levels listed. Students would select the correct grade and a list of games that were grade appropriate would appear. AppleWorks, a word processor, was also included in the list of programs for typing stories, etc. I really enjoyed playing the computer games, such as “Zoo Trip” (a game with in the program Multiplication Puzzles), and Miner’s Cave. The computer screens themselves were normally blue, but for various holidays the colors of the computer screens were changed. An example would be during the Christmas season the computers alternated between red and green screens, where at Easter time the screens were pastel colors. Third grade was also when both classes got together and watch Zoo-Opolis! for science class.

To be continued……