Living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder: My story

GABE HALL

Fear, shame, regret, uncertain. These are 4 words that would accurately describe how I often feel about myself, based on my interactions with others. The desire to just seem normal to other people is nothing less than a fantasy. My story begins at a young age.

In 2002, my Father was relocated to South Korea, and me and my Mother moved across the ocean along with him. My earliest memory is actually of the plane that we flew from Atlanta, to Seoul. Perhaps that might explain my passion for aviation, that or the fact that my Father has been a pilot for most of my life. I was just 4 years old. I had my first go at education during that year. It was also during that time that I accepted Christ into my life. This was a decision that would prove to be quite important later on in life.

We moved back to the US in 2003, back to Alabama, where we would stay until 2005. At that point, I had already exhibited signs of ADHD and was placed on medication. This did not last long however as it significantly messed with various aspects of my personality. It also very seriously impacted my appetite. At that point in my life, it was already obvious that there was something very different about me.

We moved to Pennsylvania in 2005, a place that I have since fallen in love with. Whether it be the sweet chocolate smell of my hometown of Hershey, or the beautiful countryside of Lancaster, everything I could have ever dreamed of was in my reach. Not long after moving to Pennsylvania, I was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which falls on the autism spectrum. Many people with this disorder call themselves aspies. This disorder is defined as a developmental disorder related to autism and characterized¬†by higher than average intellectual ability coupled with impaired social skills and restrictive, repetitive patterns of interest and activities. In other words, very smart but not able to experience natural social skills.

I entered the realm of public education going into the 4th grade, but struggled significantly with social interactions. I would often find myself playing alone on the playground, mostly because I just didn’t (and still don’t) have the ability to just walk up to people and start talking to them. Those that I did interact with had come to me. However, those that did come to me, thought I was weird. At the time, I had a fascination with weather. Today, my passion is things that fly, that and roller coasters.

Another passion that I discovered while I was in the fourth grade was music. I saw that the elementary school I attended had an orchestra and I really wanted to play the violin. However, when I got home and talked to my parents, they suggested I try cello (had no clue what a cello was at the time). I gave it a shot, and a couple of months in, everything just fell into place. I have been playing cello since, now for 11 years.

Going into middle school was especially challenging. This is the time where people begin to experience changes, and are therefore quite hostile to others if they aren’t confident in themselves. Me having a social disorder made me a very easy target for bullying. I had what I guess you could call friends at the time but for the most part I was alone. I was constantly picked on for being different. When it came to things I excelled at, I was actually made fun of for being an “overachiever”. Looking back at that one, I shouldn’t have been offended by that, because having drive leads to success.

Dealing with all of this lead to depression, something that to this day I have told very few people about. I had even at some times considered taking my own life. However, as I said earlier accepting Christ into my life would prove quite important, because I did have a church family. I had people that I could openly interact with. I also had my music, which did bring me a lot of comfort. Another challenge that I began to face in middle school was anxiety. This would become much worse in high school.

Toward the end of middle school, things had progressed to the point where I ended up moving into a cyber classroom setting, away from other people. This did end the problem of bullying, but you see less of that in high school anyway. I went into high school in the same cyber classroom setting but as I continued to go through high school I began to return to the regular classroom setting. My senior year of high school, I met someone who would become my first actual friend. This is someone who I also attend college with.

At the end of high school I began to overcome some hurdles that come with having an ASD. The first one being social interactions. I began to make friends. I had a positive outlook on the future. I had plans to attend Johnson and Wales University to major in Travel and Tourism Management. That plan ended up falling through due to finances, and I ended up taking a gap year. Unfortunately that put me behind everyone else in my own class, which for some reason bothers me now that I am a freshman in college instead of a sophomore.

During my gap year I overcame another significant hurdle. I found a sustainable career. I became a customer service representative for United Airlines. This was a job that I took a lot of pride in. I also take pride in having had the opportunity to represent United. It was in February of 2017, after several months with the airline that I decided to return to school. I was accepted into Lancaster Bible College, Capital Seminary and Graduate School as a Worship and Performing Arts student. But little did I know I would change to Business Administration shortly before the first term began.

I walked into the doors of the Good Shepard Chapel at LBC during my WEEKEND of WELCOME and overcame my next hurdle. Post-secondary education. I very quickly began to interact with many people and made a number of friends. Social barriers began to fall. The only problem was that I was not open about my disorder, and because of my disorder, I often miss many social cues. This lead to many friendships being broken off. I had shared with some people who I did trust about my disorder, but was then treated differently because of it.

In fact, less than month ago, I had a friend who I had trusted, completely betray said trust. There were social cues that I was missing, but that person was not able to communicate to me that I was missing them. It ended up leading some feelings of betrayal, lost confidence and humiliation. The lesson to be learned from this is that with people with Apserger’s, you need to be open and honest with them. We would rather you tell us that we are doing something that you don’t find socially acceptable, than for you to just treat us like we are special nutcases.

I share my story today, because I feel as I am being called to do so. Having asperger’s syndrome doesn’t make me particularly different. There are very few if any things that I am unable to do that others can.