1st Day of School
On the first day of elementary school, my mom woke me up early and proceeded getting me ready. Mom explained that this morning I would start catching the bus for school and that I needed to get dressed so that I could eat breakfast. That didn't make sense to me, but I was hungry and ready for breakfast. However, this was clearly a big change in my daily routines. When I put on one of several pairs of stiff new pants and shirts Mom bought only days earlier, I was convinced even more that I should stay home. I enjoyed the routine of waving bye to Edna Mae and Luke, and was quite willing to resume the practice. However, Mom was persistent, so I reluctantly did as expected.
Following breakfast, Edna Mae helped gather my materials for school, and reached over to tug me out the door. Mom just waved and told me to do whatever Edna Mae and Luke said. I backed up, refusing to leave the house to go out into the unknown to meet people whose existence I couldn't grasp anyway. The house was my security. My well-familiar life at home was all that I had ever known. I did not like arbitrary changes in my daily routine, and going to school was definitely a change.
Indeed, I have always had difficulty grasping the concept of realism. For instance, my mind freely accepted as real cartoon characters just because they seemed to talk and move around; nevertheless, it had difficulty accepting that people I had never seen were real, including my first grade teacher, whom I had yet to meet.
Edna tugged some more, so I reluctantly walked alongside to the bus stop, my stomach still quivering. I noticed several colorful stones mixed in with the gravel, and wanted to stop and pick them up, but Edna Mae shook her head; so I decided to get them another time.
The bus stop was conveniently located near an abandoned house, which we thought of as "the haunted house." I noticed that the road near where we stood had recently been blacktopped, and deep forbidding woods were only a few yards away. Thoughts of mean-looking bears crossed my mind. Edna Mae took my hand, looked at me, and softly said, "We wait here until the bus comes." I nodded my head in agreement.
The bus soon arrived, and I entered the confusion of children chattering simultaneously. I immediately tried to scream, but my sister put her hand over my mouth, her face flushed as she looked over at a very confused bus driver. As the bus went further, the squeal from the brakes caused me to feel as if I were about to explode. At each stop, the noise worsened until soon this cacophony was like torture, and holding my ears helped little, if any, and my head began spinning. I wanted desperately to escape the torment, but couldn't. Surrounded by other children, there was no place to go.
Eventually, the bus arrived at the school, and I rushed off the bus to try to find sanctuary from the source of my pain. With hands over my ears, I halted at what seemed to be a safe distance, and resumed breathing.
Much of my sensory processing difficulties, as I later learned, was that the noise, the chatter inside the bus, was coming from too many sources, and this caused my sensory system to get overwhelmed. My mind, in attempting to grasp what everyone was saying, got flooded with all the new information. The chatter wasn't just loud - it was also heterogeneous in nature as well as meaningful. Meaningless noise, such as the roar of a jet, would not have bothered me in quite this same way. As such, it caused mental confusion about what information was coming in, or even which sense had picked up the information. My extreme sensitivity to harsh sounds was due to my mind's inability to filter it out.
When I did reopen my eyes, I had to stare in amazement at the schoolyard -- it seemed so big. I gasped, not quite believing what I was seeing. However, Edna Mae had other ideas as she again tugged on my arm to get me inside the building and to my classroom at the end of the hall.
Mrs. McGhee looked up at us and smiled, brushing back her silver hair. "Good morning. I teach first grade. Come on in and have a seat," she said kindly.
She still didn't seem real, so I went up to touch her, to feel her dress, and soon became convinced of her reality. My teacher flushed slightly, and gave me a nervous smile, before leading me to a desk.
The first assignment was to copy numbers from the chalkboard. When the bell rang to signal the first recess of the day, I wanted to scream again to get away from it. It was so excruciating. I shot out of the classroom and ran out the nearby doors to find relative silence outside, but the bell had already quit sounding by then. After a brief pause on a stump, and several deep breaths, I walked up to some children at play.
I closed my eyes and struggled to vocalize something, anything to express my wishes. "Play, wanna play," I said, finally.
A slender curly-haired girl turned toward me and said with her lips curled, "You talk funny."
I looked at her for what seemed a long time, puzzled, not realizing that I was being mocked. "Talk fine," I insisted. The other kids also stopped playing and stared at me.
"You can't talk too good," said another girl. A few of the others giggled.
"What'd you say?" mocked another kid. Again the crowd of children giggled.
This time, I stayed silent.
A chubby boy came forward. "What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?" I was puzzled by such an odd statement, for there were no cats of any kind around, especially not the kind I saw at the zoo.
Then the bell rang again. Another little boy pointed and giggled, too. Then he and the other children ran inside. I walked, slowly. I decided to not ever talk again, or at least not unless absolutely necessary.
Even after I learned how to produce the right sounds to have speech, I still had difficulty translating my thoughts into words. The difficulty, I believe, lay mostly in the fact that nouns are tangible, whereas verbs tend to be abstract; however, since both are used in everyday speech, I had trouble assimilating what the verbs fully meant and how to use them properly together with nouns. Since every sentence required major effort on my part, I spoke as little as possible to avoid the inherent frustration.
At lunch time that first day, there were chairs squeaking and yet more crowd noise all around me. Everyone was talking at once. I felt a wave of dizziness. The unbearable noise quickly took away whatever appetite I might have had. With hands over my ears, I rushed back to the classroom.
Fortunately, after lunch came nap time. Ah, peace and quiet at last.
Later, the day ended and I got back on the bus. This time, the noise was even more harrowing than earlier on the morning ride. I hummed continuously to try to keep from getting dizzy. I wanted desperately to ignore the noise surrounding me, but couldn't. It came at me with the ferocity of torrential rain, cutting through my senses and torturing me as if it were so many darts continuously coming at me.
As soon as I got off the bus, I ran home to the shelter of my forest. There, I stimmed for a while by hitting sticks together in front of my face. By intensely focusing on the activity of my hands, my level of frustration slowly subsided. My mind regained its clarity. It served as a temporary method of coping with the internal torture.
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