By MATTHEW KENSLOW
Matthew Kenslow is the author of Juggling The Issues: Living With Asperger’s Syndrome. The below extract, from the chapter The Struggles Of Reading And Test Taking is used by permission.
Since I am quite talkative and enjoy conversations, I always have a list of questions ready for anyone knowledgeable about nearly any subject, such as a reverend, a firefighter, a chemist, a biologist, an astrophysicist, a meteorologist, a nutritionist, a doctor, a mathematician, an airline pilot, a mechanic, a historian, and a musician. I am always curious about how and why things work—in all the various sciences, mathematics, history, American Government and so forth.
However, when I finally get the chance, my mind usually goes blank. It does not matter how much I rehearsed it beforehand. If I start to ask, I may stutter. Of course, socially, I could still get nervous to ask. A lot of professionals seem busy and want to dodge any social contact from everybody; they seem to be in a rush. Of course, my Asperger’s is telling me that.
Unsurprisingly, in high school, English seemed to have always been the longest class, even though it was the same amount of time as all my other classes. It was classes like Spanish, anatomy, algebra, and history that seemed to fly by fast. Now those are the relatively easy courses, whereas English is analogous to something like rocket science or quantum physics.
That is exactly what it is like for me. Everybody has different aspirations about who they want to be in life. People sometimes cannot understand how reading is a struggle for individuals like me. That is because reading comes so easy for them; they do not know what it is like to struggle with reading. However, I find algebra and trigonometry to be a piece of cake, and that can, therefore, lead me to the similar assumption that it should be easy for everybody.
What is easy for us who have autism could be hard for others and vice versa.
Similarly, I have to have extra time with quizzes and tests. Therefore, because I have Asperger’s, I always had test accommodations. Most of the time, when I did not take advantage of the accommodations, I was the last person in class finishing up a test. I aspire to get every question correct – every single one of them. That is my tenacious goal. Before every quiz and test, my mother and I would usually pray for remembrance and a clear, focused mind.
What do quizzes and tests require? Reading! Everyone has to read every question and every answer. I may know the material, but it still takes longer for me. If I really know the material, then I could finish rather quickly. Sometimes, we have to read the questions and answers carefully. In the back of my mind, I am always alert and prepared for trick questions, which are out there. Therefore, I accordingly take extra time thoroughly reading each word.
Nonetheless, music usually blasts through my head. It is worse when the same two seconds of a song reverberates over and over again and gets stuck. In reality, music helps me now and again. Because I am a kinesthetic learner and know how to play piano, tapping to the beat, or the thought of kinesthetically playing a part of the song on the piano, helps me to concentrate. Then, when I think of or listen to the song at a future date, it may evoke the joys and excitements of taking that quiz or test.
Inescapably, I had gotten pressured more often than not when one-by-one, my classmates would go over to turn in their completed exams. My heart rate elevated even more when I was the last person, and my teacher was hurrying me up, saying that he or she wanted to get out of there.
“What number are you on, Matthew?”
Um, no comment. Alright, I had to answer. “Well, uh, I tend to skip around.” As much as I endeavor to go in order, my peripheral vision makes out all the shorter questions scattered throughout the page. I consequently get those relatively easy ones out of the way.
I suppose reading is just a skill. The more I practice and persevere as I did with piano and juggling, the better it shall become. To this day, I believe that I have stabilized this struggle with all of the abovementioned improvements. However, because I have Asperger’s, I still have a gigantic lingering residue of this struggle.
I have accepted that reading is just one of those things like skateboarding (a skill that I never got the hang of), inasmuch that I probably cannot take a book, sit down, and easily read it from cover to cover. Even thinking about that exhausts me.
I learned to compromise and accept this limitation that I personally have, but no matter how much it takes, and with patience as the key, I still aspire to get college degrees and do the big things that I want to do in life.