Paul’s Story

By Paul

I was diagnosed with autism at age 7, even though in the not-too-distant past, my doctor diagnosed me with Asperger’s Syndrome. When I was 7, there was no such term as “Asperger’s Syndrome.”  One was either autistic or he/she wasn’t. But, the outward signs and symptoms to make one safely assume I had a high level of autism were there. Already at a young age, at about 3, I withdrew from social contact with other people. Early outward signs included following the windshield wipers in the car with my eyes in steady fashion,  looking at and following vinyl records as they turned on the turntable, as well as being fascinated with a record’s reflection on a wall, compliments of the sun.

Fast-forward to age 7 or 8, and there came the habit of pounding a stick in rhythmic fashion on the grass or pavement, as I would mentally obsess over different events or people. This habit kept my thoughts in a certain rhythm.

Backtrack to age 7:  I was admitted to an outpatient clinic called the Reiss Davis Child Study Center in Los Angeles (now the Holocaust Museum) at the request of a neighbor friend. This center had a sub-program orchestrated and designed by a man who came from Switzerland to America to pursue further research and study here in the U.S. when it came to autistic children.

At first, it was suggested to my parents that I receive shock treatment. My parents vehemently protested this idea. Out of many children who were candidates for the Reiss Davis program, 10 were chosen and admitted and, fortunately for me, I was one of the 10. This program helped me to develop social skills because in first grade I had none. I learned how to read, as well as tie my shoes. But, I was uncomfortable with rainy days; these always I could associate with thunder and lightning, which I was unsettled with. I was always unsettled with the idea that lightning could strike at any moment.

Needless to say, I was misunderstood by neighbor kids and, at times, laughed at. Social situations with them were most often awkward.

Eventually, I was well enough to attend regular schooling, but not always socially. Regular schooling and growing up were no picnics. Till the end of high school, the social awkwardness and certain residues from earlier illnesses were present.

Only when I entered college were most of the problems resolved. But the Asperger’s Syndrome has been diagnosed. Hence, the social awkwardness is there, let alone other oddities. But thank God we are now living in a more tolerant and understanding society, and I can easily be more comfortable with people in their presence and be who I’m wired to be. I did manage to obtain a university degree and am currently back in school majoring in theatre arts.