TO BE EIGHTEEN AGAIN
Over the weekend, my father said to my brother and I, during a conversation, "You both know what it was like to be eighteen." Well, yes, we do, but from entirely different perspectives.
To be eighteen in Australia entitles you to vote, drink, smoke tobacco (and buy tobacco products) and, although probably less likely in the age of sophisticated weaponry, defend the country in the armed forces.
To be eighteen and autistic (or, in my case, to not know it until you're 35) is also to be shown the door when it comes to support services. At eighteen, you cease to be an autistic kid, but you start to be an autistic adult. What people conveniently ignore is that autistic people tend to not mature at the same rate as neuro-typical folk.
One thing that sticks with me looking back on being eighteen (now a quarter of a century ago) is how inexperienced with life I was. My only external life experience had been a part-time shop assistant, where again, I had troubles. As a checkout operator, some customers (and supervisors) said that I was "too slow" and what I could never tell the latter was with other registers beeping, I had to focus intently to ensure it was the register I was using and not a neighbouring one. If I had to fill the shelves, it took me longer, and I can remember, being on a stocktake and the manager becoming frustrated as it took me ages to count the stock and there were misplaced items and all. People didn't understand (and nor did I) that I needed more time to focus and that I could easily get confused if I was interrupted to do something else. If I learned anything, it's that retail is not an ideal place for an autistic person.
In hindsight, as much as I wanted to study at university, I found it daunting, especially as there was one subject that had an in-depth study of Dracula (I had seen some Dracula comics in childhood and it didn't interest me at all) and all this other stuff about a sign being a signifier over signified, something that had me thinking, no, a sign is something telling you about something. If you see a sign on a toilet door that says "Male" or "Female" it is not signifier over signified, it is telling you that you have to be male or female to use it. Needless to say, I passed that subject, with the only motivation being that it was compulsory and I didn't want to have to repeat it. There was, however, a subject on society and culture, where I wrote an essay on Australia's involvement in the Cold War, in which I thrived, as it was a special area of interest.
Another thing that occurred for me, at the age of eighteen was a one-way love affair. Having endured all the pain of being rejected by others, I tended to believe, having had a great rapport with my high school Japanese teacher, that I could blend into Japanese society well. I believed that my future was there. In retrospect, I believe, had I met this particular woman, and I'd been with a support worker, and she'd picked up, "That person with Peter is not his girlfriend (or boyfriend (okay, I'm not gay, but she wasn't to know that)) or even his friend, that's his support worker," things might have been resolved more quickly as she may have wondered, "Why has he got a support worker?" and may have avoided me as a consequence. Maybe, as I'd wanted to continue studying Japanese and a subject had become a special interest/passion, a support worker could have looked around and asked, "Is there an Australia-Japan Friendship Group that would be open to having an autistic person, who's no threat to anyone, as a member?" and the next step could well have been, "Okay, we need to get you out of this university and get you into another one where you can blend in a little more."
Then, when I'd turned twenty, and I did change universities, I had a young woman around me who wanted to sit beside me in Japanese classes, but her motivation was not to be my friend, but to copy my notes, and she even treated my books as if they were hers. I am certain that had I been in class with a support worker, she would have avoided me rather than wanted to associate with me.
And then, if my programme at university had have been, "Lecture, Research in Library for one hour, go home," then, the next day, "Lecture, attend Centre for Excellent for autistic business," next day, day off, next day, lecture, attend centre for excellence," so that I was well-connected to my autistic peers and tribe, I would have avoided some of the problems I encountered, as I would have known where I belonged and not been searching. I could also have had my special interest reinforced by the right people.
To be eighteen again, well, no, but to have the same number of years of contented autistic life from when I was eighteen up to now and more, definitely.