I was 16 years old when I found out that I had been diagnosed with high-functioning autism. I was sitting in my 10th grade class and my special ed teacher was going over an interesting article about different types of learning disabilities. In the middle of the article, she stopped and told the class that we were all on the autism spectrum. Immediately, my heart dropped.
Sure, I knew I was in special ed. I had been as long as I could remember. But I always thought it was because of my poor academics. As soon as I learned I was autistic, I felt like it meant something was wrong with me. I began thinking about ridiculous labels like retarded or mentally challenged. I worried that people would reject me if they found out that I was different from them. I felt weak, like I wanted to just break down and cry.
Then I started to reevaluate the way I saw the world. I thought back to when I was in elementary and middle school, how during recess I'd just go off and wander around by myself. While the other kids played together, I would look off into space. It wasn't the best time for me. Kids were always teasing me. And when I was down, the one thing that made me feel better was music.
Music came easy to me. I could replicate any rhythm, even if I had only heard it once. In class I would drum on the desks. When there was no furniture around, I'd tap on my head and stomach and chatter my teeth. In high school I started producing my own music. Unlike some of my peers, I never got tired of working on my beats. I found out later that people with autism tend to have a keen interest. I started thinking autism might not be a disadvantage after all. When it comes to music, it feels like a superpower.
Eventually, I started to tell people close to me that I am autistic, and they seemed okay with it. Instead of judging me, they told me that's part of what makes me unique.
With a Perspective, I'm Femi Ajala.
Femi Ajala plans to study music and has already been accepted to three colleges. Youth Radio produced his commentary.