Growing up with Asperger's
syndrome, by Larry Arnold part I
memories of an untamed
is attempt to piece together my early life,
around what I now know of myself , it is of
necessity based upon my own memory, and where my
own memory is not sufficient on those things
which my mother told me about myself whilst she
was alive. Beyond that as to motivations of
various people I have had to use supposition so
there may well be a number of inaccuracies and
somebody stumbling on this web site may have
known me years ago and be able to supplement or
even contradict what I suppose to be. If you
recognise me from this drop me an email . Please note that
most of the photographs have larger images which
can be viewed by clicking on them.
was born in the 1950's in the bedroom of my
parents house, and so far as I am aware it was a
normal birth, I came kicking and screaming into
the world, and some might cynically say I never
stopped since. I was of a fair size and arrived
on time anyway.
One of the first
sights I ever beheld was the family boxer dog,
looking down at me, such was life then, none of
the hygenic clinical hospital births like today.
We had to get to know each other anyway.
Within my first
year of life, perhaps the only remarkable event
was my admission to hospital aged seven months
with severe pneumonia.
My survival was
down to three things, firstly that my grandmother
saw the symptoms in that my lips had turned blue,
and ensured I was admitted to hospital in time.
Secondly because the new antibiotic streptomycin
was available and thirdly because my heart was
strong enough to stand the strain, and because I
must have had a will to live.
Hyperactivity - In my early years my
mother says I was Hyperactive, a catch all title,
which it appears related to my stay in hospital
according to my mother, in that I slept very
little and needed to be watched all the time.
How soon I reached
the developmental milestones of walking and
talking I do not know, nor probably ever shall
know, however I only know that my brother was
late with both of these, and needed speech
therapy in his early school years.
While my brother
was yet a babe, I was sufficiently active, to
warrant bolts on doors, to prevent me getting
into rooms where I would endanger myself by
climbing onto things and out of windows.
I recall some of
this climbing, into my brothers cot, and onto the
wardrobe, which I still have in my bedroom to
sensitivities - I was it appears also sensitive
to noise and certain sounds in particular, such
as the sound of running water would terrify me.
My mother says I was very hard to control at
these times and used to relate a particular story
of how she took me at about two years old and my
brother and family dog on holiday.
She had to change
buses, when it was raining, and I was playing up,
and how thankful she was for someone who gave
assistance with me at that time. I recall that
holiday but not that particular event.
I do recall another time when I was
perhaps a year older, being very disturbed at a
steam train, when it was venting steam, a
painfully loud noise.
Noise has bothered
me ever since, though I may be better able to
resist the impulse to run away in adulthood.
However so much was painfully loud in the
environment around me, and there were the usual
things which terrified me, aircraft, and dentists
drills. Cap guns and fireworks were unnerving too,
as was thunder. Later on it was difficult for me
to enjoy certain things like concerts and discos,
because the music was painfully loud and
disorienting. It never seemed to bother any one
else. To this day I have tinnitus in my ears and
I don't know whether that is due to my
sensitivity and exposure to noise.
in early school years - I recall my first years
in school fairly well, and my first day in
particular, being sat on the floor to join in
with a group of children who were playing with
building blocks on the floor. I was also
separated on the first day from my desk companion
because I scribbled all over his exercise book.
I am told although
I don't recall this that I would not obey any
rules at school, and would not stand in line with
the other children. I was also considered to have
a problem with my hands because I used them both
alternately and did not settle on one. I was
forced to use my right hand, which I have since
regarded as the wrong decision.
I was also not
very practical at dressing, putting clothes on
the wrong way and not being able to do up buttons.
I could not do up laces either. It is still an
amazing fact to me the lengths I went to get
around these problems, such as taking clothes on
and off without undoing the buttons (shock horror
I still do this with my shirts) and wearing my PE
clothes underneath my ordinary clothes. I would
frequently "forget" my kit for school
in later years or come up with all sorts of other
As for shoe laces,
you will find this hard to believe but I never
mastered this properly until I went away to
University. I would, and still do, force shoes on
and off with the laces done up, and for the most
part wore shoes and boots which were either
elasticated or zipped until I was 19.
Other confusions would
surround knowing which way to hold a knife and
fork, and I feel decidedly uneasy whenever I have
to go to a formal dinner, as I am totally lost as
difficulties attended using a screwdriver or hand
tools, even opening doors the right way. I could
not abide sports as I was totally unable to catch
a ball (still am) nor particularly adept at
kicking one either. I could run fast but never
saw the point of winning races.
All in all I felt
very awkward and clumsy. I did not, would not or
could not learn to swim and was one of the very
few children in the school who left unable to.
Surprisingly enough I do not recall having any
particular difficulties with a bike which people
with my condition often do find difficult. This
may be because I started very young, with a
tricycle, rather than the bikes with stabilisers
that kids have nowadays. I did enjoy my bikes.
Dyslexia - I am told I was late
learning to read and this was of some concern to
mum and dad. They did not call this dyslexia at
the time, so far as I am aware, although I showed
all the classic hallmarks. I don't suppose anyone
had heard of fancy titles then. I do recall
something of the process and having difficulties
distinguishing certain letters. But because there
were books at home and I was eager to learn, I
had plenty of encouragement. To whose special
efforts I owe being able to read I don't know. It
seems I caught up though I remember later on in
school sitting and pretending to read books in
English whilst in reality being distracted by
everything else that was going on. I still do not
like reading out loud. Worse than that I actually
recall falling asleep at the back of the class in
was never regarded as backward, unlike my brother
who was in danger of being so labelled because of
his speech difficulties, rather I was considered
lazy. It was not understood then how skills
deficits in reading relate to maths and writing
too and I never learnt to write comfortably or
particularly clearly. I was held in some way
responsible for this and it angers me still. Why
on earth was I not encouraged to type? The
machines were available even in those days and we
even had one at home, when I did learn to touch
type in my mid teens it was a liberation to me,
but was I able touse it in exams, no way!
Dyscalculia - I do not actually recall
any enormous problems with maths in my primary
school other than failing to learn my tables,
which of course renders mental arithmetic
difficult thereafter. In fact is was not until
secondary school that I felt it was particularly
hard. By then I found strategies to cope, such as
a primitive adding machine, and of course the
surreptitious use of my fingers. I was one of the
first to save up my pocket money and buy a
calculator when these came out as well. That I
had difficulties with maths is beyond dispute as
I am virtually acalculic now, whatever skill I
did have has lapsed. I cannot even be sure of my
change in a shop these days, and always hand over
too much deliberately and trust to the best for
Being unable to do
mental arithmetic is something that people do not
see, they just assume that everyone can. It comes
as a shock whenever I tell people I cannot.
"What someone as intelligent as you"
they say, "how can that be?"
Academically I just ticked along,
somewhat below my expected level of performance.
In the secondary school I was selected to do
languages, because that was what was done for the
more intelligent children, never mind if I was
any good at it.
I wanted to do art,
but I was never allowed, because I was physically
to unco-ordinated to draw properly, never mind I
liked art. I wanted to do science subjects and
that was a struggle to be allowed to do this as
well, because of my poor maths. In spite of being
expected to fail in physics I turned out to be
the best at that subject. I am still interested
in physics and astronomy.
Bad choices in the
crucial teen years led to worse choices later and
qualifications werenever gained that could have
been won given the right circumstances and
support. that is the cruelty of having decisions
made for you.
a "team player" - So what was I like
socially and emotionally? It is hard to record
these things without wanting to put a gloss on
them to show I was really dynamic and full of the
joys of youth, to downplay those things which
were painful and marked me off as different. Well
it wasn't so. I was in my mothers words, a true
Wednesday's child, rarely smiling, It is hard to
find many photographs where I am smiling, it is
not something which comes naturally to me. I am
not sad, I just don't smile.
I was never a
player of team games nor did I join in the usual
social games in the playground at school. At best
I would have one or two friends, if they were not
joining in someone else's game, at worst I would
stand at the edge of the playground, still and
silent with my back faced to the rest of the
children in a world of my own.
If you have ever
wondered what are children actually thinking of
when they are like this I know because I can
remember. In my mind I was not there, if it was
cold, I was impervious to it. I can still recall
the actual visual images that went through my
mind on these occasions. A picture of a
comfortable armchair, I could curl up in and of
the living fire which we kept at home. I can
still focus down like that, it is a kind of
tunnel vision where everything around becomes dim
except for some detail, which becomes
fantastically bright and vivid. "To see a
world in a grain of sand" as the poet Blake
put it. For everything I could see pictures.
Later on in
secondary school I would just keep myself to
myself for the most part or play chess and
overload and tantrums - To the stories that were
told in primary school I could see pictures. So
vivid were these stories that I believed they
were real and would cry openly at them. I had a
strange belief system early in life which may
have been due to literal thinking. I had an over
intensity of emotion and confusion about my
feelings. I was also quick to anger and would
have outbursts. These must have amused the other
children because they would provoke me into these
rages, where I would lash out wildly, and pick up
whatever was to hand an throw it as hard as I
could. Hard enough to break windows on more than
I think the
teachers were remarkably forgiving in retrospect,
because once I had finished such a rage, I was
totally sorry for the consequences, and honest to
a fault. It wasn't I who raged but something
inside of me that took control and then subsided
as suddenly as it came.
I was very phobic
and obsessional, tremendously frustrated because
I just could not do things. I knew I was
different from the other kids, and I tried to
reason why. At one time I was convinced that I
had a brain tumour, but the family doctor never
took any of that seriously. From time to time I
would be on various antidepressants I think as I
became older. The doctors knew the difficult
family history and did not expect that I would
behave any differently.
The school reports called
me a lone wolf, a phrase which I actually rather
liked, and if I ever did anything to come out of
myself it was singled out as something worthy of
praise. I suppose my parents would have liked me
to socialise more, but my brother was scarcely
any different. My parents went up the wall
figuratively speaking when the school went so far
as to call him anti social I am actually more
outgoing than he. Mostly I stayed the same, until
my teens anyway with only a couple of close
freinds whom I could relate to and with whom I
enjoyed for a while a youth theatre group. This
allowed me full rein to pretend I was somebody
else. I did also eventually joint the school
astronomy society, with my brother.
favourite activities - my greatest pleasures
were solitary, long bike rides and walks on my
own when I was older, and when I was young I
enjoyed nature and colour and shape above all
things. I was brought up with open country all
around and farmyard animals were all familiar. I
remember my dad explaining what that particular
four letter word that was spray painted on the
wall meant, by reference to what horses did to
each other. Town boys would not have known that
in those innocent times
We holidayed in
Wales and in the Lake District and Yorkshire,
where I could get out into the fresh air and the
country among trees and moors and mountains.
I loved to draw,
even though I wasn't very good at it. I would not
draw a house like children normally draw a house.
I would draw it in plan form. I wanted to be an
architect. I used to invent things too, like a
car that could go underwater and ran on gas, it
looked surprisingly like the people carriers of
today, but they stay on dry land thank goodness.
I designed railway engines and buses.
Buses were my
obsession, I collected there numbers and
identified their types, Once remembered never
forgotten I could tell them all. I can still
recall the sound of their engines. The different
sounds of buses in different parts of the country
as they changed gear to tackle the particular
roads and gradients. My favourite toys when
younger however were model cars, the shineyness
and the newness of them.
- Family life was stable in one way in that we
never moved house, and dad was always in work.
But in other ways it was difficult. Dad had a
personality disorder (not a mental illness as he
would rightly say). He was temperamentally not
suited to family life and his best years were in
the army in a structured and disciplined
environment where everything was predictable and
where it should be.
He had two stays
in a mental hospital while we were still children
and behaved toward the family like the sergeant
he was in the army, barking orders which could
not be disobeyed. But he was loving nonetheless
and fair to us kids if not our mother to whom he
was violent. Again he was not really responsible
for this violence in my opinion because he was
not aware of the outcome at the time.
He was intelligent
and well liked by everybody outside of the family
and in later years I would practice photography
with him and we would spend hours in libraries
and record offices researching the family history
together. The results of that, some of it in his
words can be found elsewhere on my site. I know
that academically and career wise I was a
disappointment to him, he wanted his children to
succeed where he did not, but I did not have it
did I appear like to others later on? - How did the other kids
see me at my secondary school. I do not really
know, I am not in touch with any of them, not
surprising really. I know that they saw me as
unusual and eccentric though. The way I talked
was probably eccentric as well as sometimes kids
would make fun of it.
I was an untidy
and a messy kid and I suppose that stood out to.
I used to chew things incessantly like pencils
and the leather straps to my school bag. I used
to twist my limbs into impossible positions,
which I did not find strange but everyone else
did. Once again I was known for not obeying any
rules or adhering to any social convention, to
being different for the sake of it and rebellious.
How I got away
with so much I do not know, it was as if the way
I behaved was what was expected of me, and
therefore tolerated. Maybe they knew more than
they ever let on, who knows? Maybe the teachers
secretly wanted to be rebels themselves and saw
me as a free spirit, it was the time of the
Beatles and Jimi Hendrix after all, and looking
back the teachers who seemed to be so much older
than the kids, were as often as not, not that
long out of college themselves.
reach Adulthood - I left school without the
qualifications that my parents and the school had
hoped for, and managed to secure myself a place
at University more by negotiation than academic
excellence. I knew that every school leaver
brought with them a price, and that there was a
law of demand and supply in academia. A cynic
even then. I found myself with little difficulty
being offered a place at Warwick University,
today one of the most prestigious Universities in
Once away from
home for the first time, and having learnt to tie
my shoe laces at last! I was able to be my true
self for the first time. And boy was I wild and
whacky and weird even by my own standards!