By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
Hers was one tough way to discover a disability.
“River” (not her real name) lives near Los Angeles, California. In a telephone interview, the sixteen year-old said, “I was attending school out of town a couple years ago and had to use the bus and there was a point when I completely snapped. I couldn't handle the pressure of being at school. One night, when at home, I held a knife to my throat. My mother slapped the knife out of my hand and I went to school the next day as if nothing happened.”
Within a month, River was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to the National Institutes of Health, ASD is a “range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.” River has a milder form, formerly called Asperger's syndrome.
In terms of life, she said, “I mostly don't feel like I fit in. I'm distant from others because I don't want to put myself in a position where I get hurt. I push others away. I don't seem to act or feel the same ways as others. I'm different.”
Since the knife incident she has however learned to fit in a bit better at school. She has some friends now who have shown her “the light” in terms of making her feel like she actually belongs somewhere. They have accepted her for who she is, she said.
People with ASD develop a special interest or interests. Hers are television shows that suck her in “like a vacuum,” she said. When watching a character on a show she likes, River may over-identify with the character. Besides certain shows, she also has a deep interest in musicals. She often gets songs from the musicals stuck in her head and will “break out into song” at times.
As for not socially fitting in, she has had the most problems in her school cafeteria, she said, where the slightest inappropriate word from her at times has led to other students talking about her for months.
Probably thinking of her school cafeteria, she said, “If you have trouble fitting in and you have Asperger's (mild form of autism), don't be afraid to be who you are in social situations, because when you get afraid you'll have more trouble than when you aren't afraid.”
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