“She certainly marches to the beat of her own drummer,” I would hear my mother say often.
At the time, I had no idea what that meant. Was that a good or a bad thing that I marched to the beat of my own drummer?
“She was in time out again when I picked her up,” I would hear my dad say. I knew as a child that I was in fact different and difficult. I was also made acutely aware that I wasn’t as “smart” as the other children, not by my parents but from my teachers. I was placed in developmental 1st grade instead of moving on with my classmates. I was in every remedial class from elementary through college because of my learning disabilities. I constantly struggled to do well in school, but also at the same time struggled to figure out the odd world of socializing. I didn't know at the time I was on the autism spectrum.
After earning my degree in Elementary Education, my first step was to save all the children like myself and tell them they were smart and could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up. Secondly, I did so because I believed I could change education. Unfortunately, neither of those things happened.
As an undiagnosed young adult, being a teacher of 20-plus 4th graders was not my cup of tea. I later figured out that education and a teacher’s work are not this utopia existence that I crafted it to be in my mind. It was in fact dirty and difficult at best. The things teachers are expected to do today in the classroom are not what I had pictured.
To teach and manage a classroom full of different individuals is a challenge, even for those not on the spectrum.
I did, though, have a few wonderful teachers who encouraged me, told me I was intelligent and asked great questions. I believe it was those encouraging words along with my parents’ encouragement that got me through. You see when a child is “different,” we, as a society tend to put focus on those differences and challenges, instead of what strengths and abilities a child has.
I now understand as a parent myself that it was quite difficult having a strong-willed child and trying to figure out what to do with this child. Sure, they knew I was different, but in the 80’s different wasn’t appreciated, especially in schools where each child was expected to follow a certain norm.
Little did my parents know at the time that I was on the autism spectrum because I was high functioning. Now at 33 years old, my parents understand now why I was and still march to the beat of my own drummer.
Celebrate those differences you see in others, whether they’re on the spectrum or not, whether you are a teacher, or a parent; we are all born to be amazing individuals in our own ways. And those differences must be celebrated. Just think of what the autism world would like if we put our number focus on the strengths of an individual, instead of focusing mostly on the challenges? Of course, tackling the challenges is vital, but just as vital is tackling those strengths and passions that lie within the individual. Just a thought from one individual to another.
Krista Baker has her bachelor’s degree of Science in Elementary Education and is a certified teacher. She currently works for the Metropolitan Library and lives in Oklahoma City with her husband and their two daughters. After years of researching why she was "different" she received a diagnosis in 2012. Since, she has spent time extensively researching health and spectrum disorders to better understand their role in her life. Her passions include reading, writing, working with children, health, and is currently working on a book for children and adults on the spectrum.