There is a theory which is popular among science fiction writers that we live in one universe among many other parallel and different universes. In these universes life is similar to the one we live but not exactly the same as here, so I might be a professor teaching mathematics in one instead of the software developer I actually am in this universe. Small events can ripple outwards to make huge changes in the eventual outcome, meaning even a small change at the start of a life can lead to a very different one at the end. It made me wonder. What if?
Hi, I’m Pete and I’m a 47-year-old with autism. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome aged 5. I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time, I just remember being told I had to go to the “special class” when I started school.
I didn’t much like school. The teacher never really listened to me and we kept having to do stuff I found easy, Like working out change from shopping or how to make a sandwich. I always felt really odd in there, surrounded by kids with Angelman’s syndrome, profound deafness or other similar conditions. Perhaps these days the kids would be more integrated and less isolated but this was a small Scottish lowland school in the 70’s we were hidden away in our own class like an embarrassment. I remember Mum and Dad arguing a lot. Dad always wondering about who was going to take care of me. Mum worrying about how I’d cope when they were gone. I tried telling them I was ok and could look after myself but they never listened. Primary school came and passed. I didn’t learn much, at least, not from the teachers at least. I read my own books and learnt from them. When I went to secondary school again I was segregated into our own special little class only difference now was there were more of us from other schools in the area. Teachers tried to give us the basics, but with limited staff and so many people with different abilities and disabilities more often than not we were just told to keep quiet and read.
I got picked on a lot at school. I didn’t really make any friends unfortunately. I’d often just spend time in the library, but even that was frustrating as the librarian always seemed to think the books I wanted to read were “too advanced for me” and gave me other ones. I get angry when I’m not allowed to do what I want and as such I’m always in the headmaster’s office for punishment.
School finishes and I’m told I have to go to the adult learning centre. It’s not what I want to do, I see people on TV using computers and things and I think they look fun, unfortunately my Mum and Dad say they’re for “other” kids and we don’t get one. I’m so bored so I make my own fun. I’m arrested several times for lighting fires. Just piles of rubbish but I loved the flames. I remember mum crying again and dad not speaking to me. Next thing I know I’m in “sheltered accommodation” living with other “disabled” and elderly people in a large town in SW Scotland. I’m given pocket-money every day and I have to report in all the time. I’m really bored. We have a computer in the home. It’s not very fancy but it’s got some games and stuff. I’m not allowed to mess around with it though. I was looking around one day and changed something and the printer stopped working. I was just curious.
I stay in one sheltered home after another. I’m allowed a little more independence now. Seems people are more accepting of the mentally ill. I have a small job working in the local supermarket. I’m not allowed to be on the tills or anything, but I sweep up the store and stock the shelves. It’s nice to be able to get out of the house.
One day a new book shop opened across the street. It was an odd place, sold books but also have a coffee shop and computers you could use! If you paid 50p you could use one of the computers and search for ANYTHING you wanted. It’s amazing.
This one time, I found this story about a guy the same age as me, funnily enough also called Pete. Only he’s married and living in London with his wife and works as a senior software developer for a large multinational company. Gosh.. what a wonderful life that would be but it’s not likely.. it’s just pure science fiction if you ask me!
Obviously none of this happened to me. But it’s not all fictional. My school did have quite pronounced segregation for special needs students. Even the deaf students who were bright and intelligent were schooled with the more acutely disabled students. I did actually (and erroneously) end up in that class for one afternoon. I didn’t enjoy it one bit. My life as a troublemaker, arsonist and shop worker didn’t happen to me either. There was one boy in our school who this happened to. I never really knew what happened to him, I recall him being sent to a borstal school because of his arsonist tendencies.
My mum and dad were supportive all my life and encouraged my curiosity and wild ideas. Not many kids in early secondary school had two full sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica! (Admittedly 2 very old moth-eaten second-hand sets – but still !) I got my first computer aged 10.
And yes, I knew of people consigned to the care system. Living in sheltered homes and the such. My mother used to work as a carer in one such establishment and I got to know some of the residents who lived there. In this “what if” scenario I just put myself in their shoes.
I was never diagnosed at school. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 46 by which point I was working in London and married. Perhaps my life wouldn’t have changed so drastically and dramatically. But I know my parents would have worried about my future and I also know I wouldn’t have got the level of education I needed. The rest is pure fiction and conjecture.