Empowering People, Launching lives

Autism, Anxiety & School

Author: James Kirkendall



15th March 2023 | 2 mins read

I’ve been asked the question many times. Would it have been easier to have been diagnosed with autism as a child?

The answer to that question is not so simple. In fact, I always ask myself this question. When I was little, I was diagnosed only with a specific phobia, anxiety and a learning disability. Walking into school was mostly a hindrance in my mind. Granted, I did have fun at times. However, the aspect of learning, making friends, pleasing teachers and bringing work home was overwhelmingly exhausting. I would always walk into the classroom with my stomach in knots.

I am from the United States, where the school system is more than flawed due to government policies and regulations. I remember second grade (early elementary) clearly as it was the most memorable era of my childhood and not with good reason. As this was the point where mathematics, science, reading and other subjects left me in the dust. You might ask the question “I thought that all autistic people were supposed to be booksmart”? My answer to that is that everyone is different. I understand there is a belief by many that, “All people on the spectrum are supposed to be geniuses.” This is NOT true. In fact, a learning disability can often occur with autism. All individuals are different. In my case, a learning disability is linked to my autism. For example, mathematics was especially difficult for me when we started multiplication assignments. I remember everyone else grasping the numbers while I just sat there lost. The light bulb never came on for me.

In my opinion, I strongly believe school systems should be focused on the student’s strengths rather than their weaknesses.


Then there were the phobias: batophobia (a fear of tall buildings) and altocelarophobia (a fear of high ceilings). This of course made things very difficult for me and still does. In elementary school I attended a catholic school. Attending mass each day was a requirement of each student. We would always walk over next door to the church which had a massive high ceiling. How did I cope? I didn’t. The solution was to move me to the “cry room” to watch the service behind glass. I always thought to myself “This is supposed to be a place of worship, why do I feel crippling anxiety”? The answer might be in fact autism. If I had been diagnosed at the time it would probably have given me more insight and understanding to my phobia. Maybe even have helped me overcome it. Perhaps the teachers would have been more understanding of it. It wasn’t that I was a bad kid or a trouble maker. I was just misunderstood.


Now, my childhood was not always doom and gloom. I had things I was good at too. Such as canoeing, hiking, video games, karate, and acting. Much of which I still participate in. Does autism have a weakness? Yes, it can do. But most importantly I believe it gives those of us on the spectrum a strength. In my case creativity. To elaborate.

I believe I’m good at writing and photography. I’ve had wonderful opportunities to showcase my talent. Including co-authoring a bestselling book. So, if you’re on the spectrum, always think about what you can do with your power.

Now back to the question at hand. Do I believe it would have been easier if I had been diagnosed earlier in life as a child? Maybe and maybe not. As I’ve mentioned this is not a simple answer. It would have definitely given myself and others awareness if my diagnosis had been detected earlier. It would have answered my phobia, social interactions, sensory issues and learning disability. Could this have been easier? Probably. However, I believe my struggles and obstacles have made me a stronger person. Because of this I can be a voice for others on the spectrum.

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