You wake up, eat your breakfast, and wait, wait for the school bus to pick you up, telling yourself every day is a new day. But you just don’t see it, the odds are never in your favor. You try to stay hopeful, maybe something will change today, or tomorrow, next month, or next year. This is the thought you have to stay positive; this is the Achilles tendon to your sanity.
The sound of wheels crushing the pavement is what you hear as the school bus appears. You watch it approach and stop at your house. A normal person would get on without any drama – that’s what you want to be – so you get in, no tantrums, no crying, no bullsh-t.
Your classmates on the bus are not what you’d call normal. You are all labeled “special needs.” You know you don’t belong with them; you deserve to be with the normal kids, no special class, none of that bullsh-t. However, parts of you knows that you do, indeed, belong with them. You were born like them. Hell, you acted the same way as them in the past: crying, hand flapping, strange noises and gestures – the things you expect to see in disabled or autistic people.
The “normal” people are used to your classmates’ behavior. They try to ignore it. Sometimes they even try to be nice about it. This is how you’re treated too. Unwritten school rule: special-needs classmates must be treated with caution, and with (fake) kindness and acceptance. This is so obvious that they might as well put it in the actual rulebook.
As the bus wheels start rolling, the wheel in your mind begins rolling too. It processes what those at the “worse end of the spectrum” cannot. A part of you feels bad for them, but the dark parts of you find them cringy. You want to make fun of them behind their backs, just to feel “normal.” Mostly, you wish you didn’t care about them or have anything to do with them. After all, humans are harsh toward each other; you experienced this firsthand in your childhood.
You think about yourself, autistic, spending most of your time in special classes, playing board games, and rarely learning with the mainstream class. One of your favorite but most painful moments took place in the “normal” class.
You walk out of the bus with your classmates, trying to look cool. You see the normal people walking and biking to school. None of them comes by bus. You view them with envy and hatred and a desire to be like them. You would sell your soul to the devil to be just like them. But the devil never offered that deal.
You sigh as you walk into your special-needs classroom. The teachers look at you, showing off their fake smiles. “Hey! Welcome back! I hope you had a nice weekend.” The unwritten rule applies especially to the teachers. It’s disgusting.
You try to focus on your overly simple work, trying to forget about life, and the urge to cry – maybe into a normal classmate’s arm. All you can do is smile. Being happy is encouraged in your classroom. It’s amazing what a smile can hide.
You hear the recess bell and you line up like a good kid and get your butt outside. There are tons of things to do outside together; it’s amazing how creative kids can be with a ball and a field. However, you’re by yourself, out of luck.
You watch them in envy, playing soccer together. You’re too shy to join them, and even if they let you play, they’ll go easy on you, letting you score, not even trying to stop you. It’s how normal kids are taught to play soccer with autistic ones. That humiliation isn’t worth it.
That’s when the tears come. You run to the bathroom and sob where no one can hear you. The only arm you can cry into is your own. Your unwritten rule: Keep your sanity strong by yourself – no one else will help you without treating you like a child.
After recess, kids on the less severe end of the spectrum, including you, line up to attend normal class. You hope that maybe today, the normal kids will see you as a peer, instead of someone with autism. Just maybe.
As you walk up the stairs, you see lockers lining the hallways, like a mouth lined with flesh. You see normal people looking back at you – the kid being escorted by his teacher into the classroom. You see their friendly and deceptive smiles, recognizing you as an autistic student. You try to keep a friendly look in your eyes to hide your envy and yearning. All you worry about is being friends with them, or at the very least, being accepted as an actual person.
You do the work, listening to other students help each other and share interesting stories about their lives. You can’t help but think about what you’re missing out on in life because of your autism. Then, the teacher’s words get your attention.
“We’re splitting into groups of four for this project.”
She says more, but this is the sentence you care about the most. You look around, trying to find a group to join. The normal kids immediately group together, with the exception of two. I can see the “I hate my life” look on their faces as they realize they have no option but to partner with the special-needs kid.
You work with them on the project, sometimes talking to them. You can sense the tone in their voices though – it’s like someone being forced to babysit a young child. Later, our teacher tell us, “See, they’re pretty welcoming to you guys.” That’s a straight-up lie.
The bell rings and everyone rushes outside to go home or hang out with friends. For you, however, the only option is to go home. Even if you get invited to hang out with them after school, the bus driver will get impatient and tell you to get on the bus, making you stand out. You get on the bus and drive away, wondering why you have to put up with this every day, every week, every month ….
But, every day is a new day, right?
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.