In the 2004-05 academic year I was suspended from school for the first time. Now, with some hindsight, I think that my then undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome was the root cause. I have always struggled with Maths ever since I started school. The common sociological cliché of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome is that they will be some kind of Rain Man figure, who is obsessed with Maths, Science and technology. Whilst I have a strong interest in the latter two Maths leaves me stumped – I wouldn’t be surprised if I have dyscalculia, which is like dyslexia, but it is a difficulty to do with numeracy, rather than literacy.
So in one particular Maths lesson my fifteen year old self was finding it hard to keep up with the mathematical jargon the teacher was telling me and the rest of the bottom set class. My mind started to drift as I couldn’t follow the gobbledygook – and then, my teacher suddenly pointed to a problem on the board and asks me “why is this the wrong answer?”. Finding myself baffled I used humour as a nervous response so I replied, “because it isn’t the right answer”. She was furious at what I said, and she told me that I had to stay behind and talk to her about my “bad attitude”. So I spent the rest of the lesson silently fuming about being unduly vilified.
After the lesson, when I should have been having lunch, she proceeded to read me the riot act to the point that I could take no more. I stormed out of the room shouting that she should “f*ck off!”. This resulted in me being suspended and put in an isolation room with other suspended students for three whole days. I now realise that if I could have read her body language and facial cues I would have realised that my Maths teacher was asking me a rhetorical question to remind me to pay attention in class. If was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1992, when I was three, my teachers would be aware that I sometimes get things wrong, meaning I come across as facetious or aloof when I don’t mean to.
If I had also known about my having Asperger’s Syndrome when I applied for teacher training I would have got the extra help I needed to pass the course. After being told that I needed to improve substantially during my second school placement I spent nine hours at school, followed by seven hours in my university’s library planning and preparing so that I could email my plans to my mentor in advance. I would leave home at 6:30 in the morning and return after midnight almost every day. If I had known that the difficulties in my teaching I was struggling to fix were due to a brain condition that I was born with, which couldn’t be cured I would have given up there and then.
Eventually the inevitable happened and I failed the course. It was the first time that I had failed anything in my academic career. I even had to sit through the final farewell assembly at the university with all of my peers whom had all passed and were congratulating each other. I was probably one of the most intelligent people on the course with some of the best subject knowledge, but it wasn’t good enough.
That was it. I had no plan B, my future had crumbled like dust and, worst of all I couldn’t work out why. But as my life seemed over, eight months later I would find a revelation – and a new beginning of sorts…