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My Turn: Autism finds expression in poetry

December 26, 2011|By Russell Lehmann, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Russell Lehmann has written a book, "Inside Out: Stories and Poems From an Autistic Mind."
Russell Lehmann has written a book, "Inside Out: Stories and Poems… (Helm Lehmann )

I have high-functioning autism, and I also write poetry.

Having autism is extremely hard. However, having high-functioning autism can sometimes be even harder. For example, when a high-functioning autistic person communicates with a stranger, often the stranger doesn't realize the person has a disability; therefore you are looked upon as odd, scared and sometimes even stupid.

In third grade, I stopped going to school due to severe social anxiety. After three months of staying home, I was able to start attending school part time. This experience repeated itself over the next two years. One day, in May 2002, I had an extreme panic attack and stayed home from school. I was never able to go back to public school again. No one could figure out why this was happening to me.

In 2003, I was admitted to the hospital to be treated for extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety. My therapy there consisted of confronting my fears and phobias, which took an extremely hard toll on me. The doctors at the hospital still could not figure out why I was experiencing all of these symptoms. After five very long weeks, I was discharged without having any of my symptoms solved.

Later that year, at the age of 12, I was diagnosed with autism. In 2004, I was able to attend a specialty school. I made great gains while I was there. However, my life was still very far from normal.

In 2008, I was able to play high school varsity football while taking online classes at home. Many struggles came with participating in a sport in which I knew none of the kids. Multiple times I would have major panic attacks right before practice.

My coach was very supportive, and each time he helped me overcome my anxiety and attend practice. In 2009, I was the starting defensive end for my high school football team and was named to the all-state academic team.

My poems describe what life is like for me:

I was cursed to be normal, the normality of strange

God must have been drunk when He put together my brain

I feel like I've been stuck at Level 1 of this game ...

You can read more about me at my website, http://www.autisticpoet.com.

Lehmann, who lives in Reno, Nev., has written a book, "Inside Out: Stories and Poems From an Autistic Mind." It details the challenges he has overcome and presents many of his poems.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be 500 words or fewer, are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Email health@latimes.com. Read more at latimes.com/myturn.

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