People with ADHD and Aspergers have poor motor planning. That means organizing your body to do a movement that isn't a habit. So, for instance, learning to play a sport. Learning how to make the exact movements you need to kick the ball as far as it can go or swing the bat the right way. This was why I hated it when my parents put me on a soccer team as a child. It was what all suburban kids were expected to do. I begged my parents to let me drop out, and they eventually did. It was also why I couldn't learn to ride my bike until I was almost eight. I eventually learned how to do it by sitting on it, running with it to get the wheels going (picture the Flinstones in their car) and then putting my feet on the petals while the bike was still balanced.
My lack of motor planning was also evident when I was in swimming lessons, at around the same age. My brother and I both took swimming lessons at the local pool. Since neither of us had ever been in a swimming pool before, as far as we could remember, we both started at Level One. My brother took to it like a fish and quickly advanced to higher and higher levels. I stayed stuck on Level One. For several years in a row, I was on Level One. I mastered front glides and shallow water bobs. (I loved doing shallow water bobs. You basically just jump up and down in the water. I could do this for hours. It was stimmy. I also loved using a kickboard to swim around the pool, and I'd do this for hours too, even during public pool hours. My brother later told me that I'd be kicking and splashing all sorts of people, and they'd be turning around to yell at me or frown at me, and I'd just kick away obliviously.) But I could never do the actual swimming part. I couldn't coordinate my arms and legs and head to all do these different, specific moves that would keep me from sinking to the bottom of the pool.
One of the requirements to pass Level One was, you had to jump off the diving board. Not dive, just jump. I was terrified of this. Because I couldn't swim. I would land in the water that was over my head, and then I would surely drown.
The young lifeguards teaching the class coaxed me and begged me. I cried. They promised that one of them would be waiting in the water to fish me out and bring me back to shore. I sobbed. I could not. I wanted to. I was embarrassed to be the oldest kid in Level One, and the only one who couldn't go off the diving board. I wanted to be like the other kids. I would convince myself that I was going to do it. I would get as far as the ladder, and start to climb up. Then I would freak out. I couldn't picture myself jumping off the diving board. It just didn't seem real.
The exhausted lifeguards devised a plan that would help me pass Level One on a technicality. One of the lifeguards went up on the diving board with me. Another stayed below in the water. The first life guard picked me up and lowered me down, and the second life guard grabbed me. I was crying the whole time, afraid they'd drop me into that five-foot-deep abyss.
Eventually I learned to swim well enough to keep myself alive for a few minutes... basically my own version of the dog paddle. I could thrash my way from one end of the pool to the other without drowning. And by the end of junior high, I was able to jump off the diving board. I even liked it. But I could never dive. Even now. I could never contort my body into the correct position to avoid a belly flop.
Fast forward many years.
I was all set to move to E-Town, Oregon. I had a job lined up. I had a temporary place to stay, with my cousin. I had mapped out the best way to get there in my car, and found inexpensive or free places to stay along the way. I had bought a crate for my dog and trained her to go into it, so that she'd have her own safe, familiar place no matter where we spent the night. (She sleeps with me in bed... but if I left the house or room for a minute, I would have put her in the crate, so she wouldn't feel so overwhelmed.) I told everyone I knew. I announced it on Facebook and got 30 "likes." I said goodbye to my little cousins. My neighbors made me a great gift basket as a going away present. My grandparents gave me money.
But then it was time to start packing. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. I would really be leaving. Forever. It would be months before I'd get the chance to hug my mom again. There would be no more sitting around the living room watching "Family Guy" or "Gun Smoke" with my dad, or keeping my mom company while she ran endless errands. All of my ordinary, day-to-day routines would be gone. I'd also be leaving Trixie, and separating her and Lily. and taking Lily away from everything that was familiar to her.
I'd be getting a new, great life. I'd get to know my cousin BT, and see my Auntie M and Uncle J on a regular basis. I'd be able to visit Bro, Sunny and Squeak whenever I wanted to. I'd have my own apartment. I would be close to nature. I could hike, and swim in rivers, and visit the ocean. (But probably not swim in it much. The water stays pretty cold there.) But, although I knew all this, I couldn't really imagine it. It would all be new and unknown.
I sat on the floor and bawled my eyes out, shaking and rocking. Any of you who have, or know someone who has, autism, understands what a "meltdown" looks like. It is not pretty. My Small Dog tried to calm me by putting her paws on me and licking me. When I managed to stop crying, and breathe right, I still felt panicky. My skin burned so badly, I thought for sure I had sunburn, even though I was still pale. My chest felt like someone was sitting on it.
This went on for days. I would remind myself of all the great things awaiting for me on the coast. I would tell myself I would do it. Then I'd feel the walls melting away and the floor disappearing under me, and I'd be a mess again.
I thought, maybe if I didn't have to drive all that way alone, I would be okay. So my dad took three days off of work so he could drive there with me. And I thought that would be great. But then the thought of saying goodbye to my dad... and then having to go to my new job an hour later... would overwhelm me, and I'd start to feel sick again.
I couldn't eat. I took Tylenol PM to help me sleep. I wanted to go. I wanted to stay. My Auntie M promised that she would stay with me in E-Town until I felt comfortable. She told me I could always go home after a few weeks. My dad told me I couldn't... he would not drive me all the way there if there was a chance I would beg to come home two weeks later.
My cousin BT told me to just come. It wasn't a big deal. I had family there. Just come. I wanted to. I wanted to see him. When we were kids, he was the best friend I had. (I probably wasn't his best friend. After all, we lived about ninety states away from each other, and only saw each other for a few weeks each summer. But he was the only kid around my age that talked to me and spent time with me and didn't make fun of me. Well, he did make fun of me... but like a cousin, not like the jerks at school. )
My brother ridiculed me for considering not going. He said if I didn't go now, I had better just accept the fact that I was going to live and die in Chicago. He asked me what I would do if a comet hit my house and killed my mom and dad. I told him I'd probably die too, because I'd be in the house with them.
In the end, my dad and aunt were the lifeguards trying to carefully pass me off the diving board so that I wouldn't drown. But I was still terrified. To the point of being physically ill. I lost weight. Anxiety works better than aerobics. Eventually I crashed and burned.
I never wanted to be the middle-aged, childless woman still living with her parents and following their rules. As a teenager, I assumed that by the time I was twenty-one I'd be living on my own and adopting a child. (I was somewhat right. I did live on my own by the time I was twenty-one, and I did unofficially adopt many children in the different places I stayed. But I never really ws able to live completely independently. I could never keep all of my ducks in a row at once.)
Tanya Savko writes about getting her newly-adult son with autism into an independent living program. He gets to live like an adult, in an apartment, but also gets plenty of guidance and support, and has people to teach him how to do different things. Tanya writes, "His ever-expanding vocabulary belies him, as his emotional age has plateaued at around age 11 or 12, and he requires assistance." I don't require as much assistance as Nigel, but I probably did when I was 18. Unfortunately, at that time I was a wild little street kid. But that sentence reminds me a lot of myself. I am smart in my own ways. I learned to survive on the streets at a pretty young age. I learned to find the bright side of any situation. I am good at understanding children and animals. I am able to find creative and new ways of teaching children. I like to think and learn. Yet I am still afraid to go into the garage by myself (because there is obviously a ghost in there), I sleep with a teddybear at night, I cannot understand a lot of what people my age say and do, and I cry like a baby any time I am separated from someone I love.
I hate the person I am. I hate that I could not do what I wanted so badly to do. I hate that, while parts of my brain are very smart, other parts are like a little kid who still needs her mama.
My dream of moving to Oregon has died. But I don't want to say it is dead. It is in a coma. It is on life support. It needs help to breathe. But it is not dead. And there is still hope that I can revive it. Hopefully sooner than later.