Index to autobiography

   
My Schooldays Childhood
Court Jester to Warwick University University
A time of transition A time of transition
My new life My new life
My life as a carer, and a very special day! My life as a carer
Coventry Council of Disabled People and its role in my life Campaigning
Beyond my mothers departure my mothers departure
Beyond diagnosis Beyond Diagnosis
Study and the NAS Study and the NAS
Seven times Seven 7 times 7

Pictures of me

Pictures of me

Where I grew up

Where I grew up (pix)
   
 
 

Growing up with Asperger's syndrome, by Larry Arnold part I

My Schooldays,
memories of an untamed boyhood

This account 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 gaps.

Who knows 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.

The beginning

A picture of the house where I was born.I 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.

a picture of me and my grandmotherHyperactivity - 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 this day.

Sound 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.

A picture of me as a toddlerI 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.

Difficulties 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 excuses.

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.

another picture of me as a childOther 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 to protocol.

The same 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 some lessons!

A picture of me as a child with the family dogI 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 change.

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?"

another picture of me as a child on holidayAcademically 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.

Never 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 draughts.

Emotional 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 one occasion.

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.

a picture of me as a young teenagerThe 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.

My 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 - 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 in me.

What 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.

a picture of me as a young adultI 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 the U.K.

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!

 

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Copyright 1999 -2011 Laurence Arnold

This page created Sunday May 16th 1999
Modified on Monday August 9th 1999,
Tuesday January 4th 2000
Tuesday 6th February 2001
Monday December 8th 2003

Latest revision Monday January 17th 2011

Midi Acknowledgement - Lifes a long song by Jethro Tull sequenced by Adam Bodkin Jethro Tull Midi's