Florida Frenz is the autistic teen author of “How to Be Human, Diary of an Autistic Girl” She explains to us what writing means to her.
There. No hiding, just the straight up blunt truth. I have autism, hypotonia, dysgraphia and, before intense therapy, some kind of reading disability. There’s also an unnamed disability (at least I don’t have a label for it) that makes my hands and fingers uncoordinated and weak, meaning I struggle with things most people can do easily or even for fun, like tying knots or sculpting in clay.
By the time I’d started Tae Kwon Do, I’d had many hours of therapy and overall I was doing great. Tae Kwon Do built on that and taught me to persevere. I would only get to the next level by practicing. I learned skills that helped me act more normal.
In fact, most of the kids at the dojo could probably tell I was a little bit strange, but nothing that clearly screamed, “autism!” I looked like a typical ten-year-old girl, except for the fact I was already 5 feet 5 inches, but that had more to do with the fact both my parents towered at over six feet than my special needs.
Still, my mom constantly wanted to make my life better, to understand more about my disabilities. It was her good intentions that brought me to a woman I called the psychotic psychiatrist. She was one of those people who did tests to see where a person’s strengths and weaknesses are. She tested my ability to read, write, do math, pick out specific things to talk about from a picture, and much more over almost five months.
After the first round of testing, the doctor wanted to do more, because while I tested in the top 1% of people my age for my verbal IQ, my hand coordination put me in the bottom 1%. This, it turned out, was a very rare combination, so she wanted to study it. I felt like a guinea pig instead of a ten-year-old girl, being constantly compared to everyone else in everything I did. And that I didn’t measure up.
The whole ordeal made me feel subhuman.
Fascinated by my weak hands, she tied a blindfold around my face and demanded that I fit some wood blocks into slots on a large wooden panel. I found it much more difficult than most people to feel the grooves in the wood blocks, so challenging that I started to cry in frustration.
What saved me during that time was my love for reading and writing. Neither came naturally to me with my poor motor coordination, impaired visual processing, and dysgraphia.
I had stories to tell and just needed a path to writing fluency. So in the early days my stories were told through my drawings. Later, I would dictate my stories. Now I write them myself. All of this this took time, much more time than the whole testing process.
It was in the middle of the worst of the testing that I learned the magic of writing – how I could create another reality despite my struggles. On the page, I found a safe place to explore and express my feelings. If I collected data and facts and put them down on paper, they really were black and white, which was comforting to me. Writing became a safe place for me, my secret garden where I could grow, free from the doctor’s critical eye.
Writing also became my greatest equalizer. No one looked at my writing and identified me as a person on the autistic spectrum. Years after the doctor’s testing, when I ventured out from my homeschool to a mainstreamed school environment, it was my writing that caught the teachers’ attention.
Because they had no idea of my previous struggles, not one of them said, “Wow, that’s so great for a girl with autism.” They simply judged my writing ability as they did for every other student. My writing was one of the tools that helped me feel human, like I measured up and belonged in this world after all.
Find out more about Florida and her wonderful book on the Creston Books website
Listen to an interview with her on Youtube
For teachers, there are resources/activity guides available here
Due to a glitch in the time-space continuum, Florida Frenz wound up on the wrong planet. On the planet she should have been on, everyone is autistic. When no work needs to get done, everyone spends their time flapping, doodling, and spinning. However, Earth has become a home to Florida, and she has discovered many Earthlings can be fun and nice.
Florida especially loves Earthling kids, whose brains are very receptive to new ideas, and her friends, who like her, may be from other planets, but are adapting fabulously to their lives on Earth. She would also like to thank all of those who help her to remain incognito and support her right to act different when she chooses to.