Pro-neurodiversity, pro-vaccines, pro-disability rights, anti-cure.

Now Katy doesn't want to live in Smithton anymore.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

So I have followers...

It's kind of weird to be actually interacting with people whose blogs I've been reading on my RSS feed for months.  But it feels good so I'm happy about it.  ^-^

A couple of people have asked me about the title of the blog (particularly on the reason I used the name Katy when most of my friends have only known me to go by Kat or Kathryn).  It's kind of a long story so you'll have to bear with me.

In 1993, when I was about 5, my family moved from a town called Belleville to a town called Smithton.  Belleville is okay.  It has about 45,000 people and is less than an hour from St. Louis.  Smithton is a tiny town about seven miles away from Belleville, and at the time I moved it had about 1500 people (although now it's around 3000 because there was a population boom two or three years after I moved in.  Smithton is the kind of place extremely conservative racists move to when they don't want their kids going to school with "gangs."  Although one or two families were more honest and just said the N-word.).

My family lived in a Victorian house that had three bedrooms.  My mother wanted us to move to a bigger house so that my father's parents could move in with us, and she also hoped that she could send my brother and I to a better school, because the kind of education she'd had at Belleville's public schools wasn't waht she wanted for us.  We happened to find the house in Smithton that had five bedrooms, and it was cheap because the large family living there had to sell it fast.  So we moved in and I started my second year of preschool at Smithton.

The last preschool hadn't been too much trouble for me, although the teacher tried to get me to play with other kids more and I wasn't usually too interested.  But my first day in Smithton's schools involved me getting pushed down by another little girl and told that I didn't belong there and I should go home.  I told her that I lived in Smithton now.  She insisted that she didn't believe me and somehow this turned into a chant, sung in an annoying, sing-song voice (or voices, usually in unison): "Katy doesn't lie in Smith-ton!  Katy doesn't live in Smith-ton!"

It's a stupid insult, to someone who is much older.  But to my five-year-old mind it started out annoying and became meltdown-level  frustrating when I could not use reason to convince them that I actually did live in Smithton now.  I couldn't even comprehend until much later that they didn't even believe that, but were doing it for the sheer joy of my overreaction.  It became a constant thing.  My attempts to bring it up to the teachers resulted in me being put in time-out for being a tattle-tale and a crybaby.  I was shoved off of playground equipment, and since I took things very literally and was gullible as a child, I was easily convinced that new kids were not allowed to play with whatever toy I wanted to play with.

Unfortunately this only grew worse when I got older.  In kindergarten, there were even more kids to pick on me.  I made a few friendships but these were easily shattered when my new friend discovered that I was a freak and associating with me would result in strong social repercussions.  This would result in new friends immediately turning around and harassing me like the other kids, and it was very confusing for me.

I could never fit in, no matter what I did.  I excelled in school, reading 8th-grade level chapter books by the time I was in first grade.  This made me an even easier object of derision, and my second-grade teacher decided I needed to be sent to a psychiatrist, who quickly put me on Ritalin and later Imipramine.  I'm sure I will get to that nightmare in another blog post.  But it was instilled in me by the teachers and doctor that the most important thing in the world, more important than being happy or being myself, was to fit in.  I didn't fit in; that meant I was the problem.

The system worked for the bullies, who were too numerous and powerful to be punished, and I was the unfortunate victim and scapegoat.  It was easier for the issues to be blamed on me than to admit that Smithton had a bullying problem that needed to stop.  I was hardly the only child at the school who was bullied horribly, but in my year I was unusual for the sheer amount of people who hated me and were disgusted by me, and even the other kids who got bullied avoided me or bullied me themselves, just  to avoid the stigma that would come with being nice to me.  I was getting harassed by kids two and three years younger than me and two an three years older than me in addition to the 40 kids in my own grade.  I changed my name to Kat and the chant stopped, but the bullies moved onto new and more interesting forms of torment.

If you've seen Carrie, you have some idea of what life was like from third to eighth grade.  That's a long time to spend being hated by everyone you know.  I felt like something horrible within me that everyone else could see except for me made me an object of disgust and loathing in the eyes of every person who laid eyes upon me.  This wasn't just my outfit being made fun of every once in a while.  This was sexual harassment, accusations of depraved sexual activity (this coming from nine-year-olds), threats of sexual and physical violence, constant name-calling, occasional physical attacks (there were frequent "accidents" in PE that ended with  me getting struck in the head with basketballs, but I also endured a few beatings), thefts, rude notes, rude comments, and barking at me every time I walked down the hall.  Not all of those things would happen every day (although the last two certainly did happen on an every day basis, as did the second), but they happened often enough to keep me constantly terrified.  I had no concept of self-worth any longer, and by the time I went into high school I was so messed up that I didn't know how to make friends.  Smithton nearly killed me.

Smithton has come to symbolize to me over the years societal pressures to fit in, strictly-enforced conformity, mediocrity, and suburban ennui.  Smithton used to seem like a fantasy land of new locations and new people that I could fit in with if I really tried, but it was not that.  It was a prison.  It was a toxic Stepford Wives kind of environment, and I hate it.  The people I'd been trying to fit in with were all monsters or people who refused to take a stand against them.  I've come to realize that I don't want to belong there anymore, and when I was a teenager Smithton became something I wanted desperately to escape.  Recently I did just that and moved back to Belleville, and it has been great.

So today that old playground taunt, "Katy doesn't live in Smithton," is no longer a failure on my part to fit in, but a success on my part because unlike the rest off those poor angry children who are now depressed 21-year-olds living with their parents and dreaming of the high school days when they were popular, I did not belong there and I proved it by getting out and taking control of my own life.  When Smithton became the consolation prize and not the goal, I won the game.  And now I am thrilled that I do not live in Smithton and that I never belonged there to begin with.

I've only recently been able to forgive myself for making myself an object of ridicule.  It's too much to expect an undiagnosed autistic child who didn't have a chance to begin with to be able to get herself out of that situation.  I did everything I was supposed to do and reported the issues to the proper authorities and they refused to protect me.  None of that is my fault and I had been harboring so much guilt over it that I could barely function.  The wounds seemed fresh and raw only a year ago and now Smithon is just a distant, painful memory of things that once happened to me.  Because now Smithton doesn't control my life.  I do.


  1. Smithton doesn't sound like anyplace I'd like to live. It's good that you're able to put it in perspective, and get control of your own life.

    I've had this notion that it was harder for undiagnosed Aspie boys, back in the 50's, but after reading stories from some of the more recent additions to my blogroll, I'm not so sure. It's very difficult for all of us, for mostly the same reasons.

  2. I'm not really sure who has it the worst, although I think boys and girls tease people in different ways (girls are usually more subtle, boys are more blunt; sometimes the girls are worse but the boys are more direct).

    But when you start off school not responding to your peers' social signals, I guess it's kind of an immediate sign that you're different. I didn't go to school with kids who were unusually evil, but some people (especially children) will misbehave if they know they can get away with it, and the school where I went allowed them to misbehave as much as they wanted. I had one or two teachers who did try to defend me but they weren't backed up by the school and didn't have much disciplinary power. Other teachers might have thought I was the problem partially because I didn't react the way they expected me to.

    People really need to start realizing that the bullying in our schools is bad for everyone and needs to stop. But I don't think that will sink in until parents realize that the proper response when another parent calls you to say your kid is bullying theirs is to do something about it, not deny it all. But I heard there was some kid in the northeast who was recently charged with hate crimes for bullying a gay kid. I'm kind of hoping that this kind of thing will extend to all kids and everyone will have this option in the future. If I could have taken them all to court, I would have.

  3. I'm looking forward to a post by Stephanie Allen Crist's "Embracing Chaos", (listed on my blog roll) that is supposed to address the motivation of those who bully. She's already discussed how it works in boys and girls, and her next post is supposed to discuss reasons behind it. She's a really great writer, and mother of 3 on the spectrum, so I think she'll do the subject justice.

  4. wow, your experiences just make me feel so confident in my choice to homeschool my autistic son.

  5. @Clay, thanks,I'll be looking out for that!

    @Monique, I think homeschooling is often the best option for autistic children. I wish my parents had had the means to do that. My experience in high school and college was positive, my grade school and junior high were horrid. (It's probably worth mentioning that Smithton has two schools that go from kindergarten to eighth grade, one public and one Catholic. I attended the public school. The kids who graduated from the Catholic one were extremely poorly-educated so my parents couldn't transfer me there.)

  6. I relate to this so well. Kids used to call me "Space Cadet" in elementary school. Sure, I can laugh about it now, but when you're a kid and you know you're weird, it hurts badly. And I relate to the whole being pressured to fit in. If everybody else has a problem with you, it must be you who's the problem. Kids get that message loud and clear from teachers, even if the teachers don't say it.