Many of my earliest memories are from my primary years. I don’t really remember much before that, and what I think I remember, I can’t be confident about – are they my memories, or just memories based on photographs I have seen? In this chapter, I will share my experience of my primary school years from about five years old up to ten or so. During this time, I began to recognise that I was different and started to learn about how to cope with the world around me.
Mum always described me as having a lot of common sense. I would describe myself as having common sense that sometimes isn’t common, and other times doesn’t make sense… From a very young age, mum trusted me to look after my younger siblings. She had tried babysitters, but often I was still the person with the most common sense in the room. I had good observation skills for safety, and because I couldn’t care less about most things that others seemed to really care about, I was often very calm. If there was an incident that needed to be handled I was likely to be the one who could work out what to do, and then calmly do it. This trait has helped immensely throughout my life.
Mum was a riding instructor, so growing up, she had to work when everyone else was off. My stepdad was a landscape gardener, so he worked long hours whenever the weather was suitable. Because mum taught people to ride horses, I spent most of my time around horses as a child. From the age of about eight, when mum was teaching, I would often be looking after my brothers. We would be at the riding centre, so mum wasn’t far away if we needed her – she couldn’t afford to have anyone else look after us, but she trusted me and felt I was responsible enough to look after my brothers. I knew that if there was a problem, I could either find mum, or seek out any of the other adults who ran the stables.
I remember some of my first experiences attending my first primary school. It was a small school with a cold outdoor swimming pool. I have certain memories that stand out about the pool. I remember flies floating in the pool. I remember the smell of the water. It smelt like water – I mean, it didn’t have an odd smell – but I remember the fresh watery smell from the pool. I also remember the feeling of being in the water, and remember times when my nan would come along and help out during swimming lessons. I didn’t like the swimming cap I had to wear. It used to hurt my head when I put it on and took it off. The cap would stick to my hair and felt like it pulled hair out of my head whenever I took it off. I did enjoy swimming though. My favourite thing about swimming was being underwater. I loved putting my head underwater, and as I got more confident, I would hold myself fully underwater at the steps. I loved how the sound changed underwater – it was quiet and peaceful, not as chaotic and overwhelming as the world above the water. I remember believing I could almost breathe underwater. I was aware that I couldn’t, but I felt that I was able to stay underwater longer by relaxing and imagining I was breathing, so I would make all the actions of breathing without actually breathing in. I would almost cycle air round, as if I was somehow breathing within myself.
I didn’t really have many friends in primary school. I was polite, so if someone engaged with me, I would be polite and do my best to try to engage with them back, but I didn’t really have much interest in interacting with other people. I would much rather have spent a break time at the hedges around the outside of the school grounds searching for snails and looking at other creatures. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I would take an ice cream tub around with me which I would fill with leaves, twigs, snails, caterpillars or grasshoppers. I wasn’t necessarily very good at socialising, and didn’t particularly care about others. That isn’t to say I wanted bad things to happen to others – I have always wanted everyone to be alright – but I was far more caring of animals. One day, when I was out with mum while she was teaching horse riding, I found an injured grasshopper. I took it home and tried to nurse it back to health by creating an environment for it and giving it some food.
Unfortunately, it didn’t survive. I didn’t get upset about it not surviving. I wanted it to live and get better, but my attitude was: once it had died, it had died. I did all I could think of to try to save it, and to my knowledge I couldn’t have done more. I remember burying it in the garden, because I thought that was what was supposed to happen to dead things, then I got on with my life. I didn’t get upset about not being able to save it, because I had done everything I felt I was able to do.
At one time, mum tried to arrange a birthday party for me at home. She invited many children I knew, and on the day of my party, no-one turned up. I think this was a telling sign of my relationships with others. I was polite to people but never really invested in my relationships with the other children in school. I was pretty much the same at home. I would prefer to spend time alone doing my own thing, but was generally polite. I don’t recall too much play with my brothers. When we did play, it was usually something active like hide and seek or manhunt, or it was making dens or climbing trees. It wasn’t really things where I was having to play with my brothers, but more things where I played alongside my brothers, or could feel like I was doing my own thing or engaging in a project – making something for some purpose.
I was far better at getting on with adults. I would ask questions all the time about things I was interested in, wanting to know more. At school, I would take my time getting ready to leave lessons so that the other children would leave and I could then ask the teacher any questions I had. If the lesson didn’t interest me, then I would get out as quickly as I could to try to avoid being stuck in the middle of a crowd of children all leaving at once. If I had to choose between spending time with children or adults I would usually choose to stand around the adults, and would normally latch on to one adult whom I would sit next to and talk to. That adult was normally chosen because they’d first approached me and started talking to me, but they would then be stuck with me until they walked away. If they walked off and left me, I wouldn’t seek anyone else out; I would rather sit on my own and keep myself to myself. Sometimes, another adult would come and talk to me and I would then talk to them about topics I enjoyed until they walked off too.
Look Into My Eyes: Asperger’s, Hypnosis, & Me by Dan Jones, is available in Paperback and for Amazon Kindle: http://apn.to/prod/1542551196