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I was told I was just lazy, so I saw my inability to grasp right words as laziness. Was there some way to learn I hadn’t yet discovered? Pain always got my attention, so maybe I needed to be spanked and yelled at to help me learn. But it never worked. I never paid better attention the next time, and my difficulties remained. All Miss Terry’s yelling, demeaning, and paddling never produced a positive result, but her lack of success didn’t discourage her tactics. She was convinced that I was lazy, stupid, and disruptive. My new location at the back-right corner of the classroom, behind the shelves of toys, was exile. I wasn’t facing Miss Terry anymore, only the back row of students. At first, I was excited to be out of her direct view, with toys and blocks close by. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to play with them or not, and I didn’t want to get into more trouble. As the days passed, I began feeling separate from the class, realizing how alone I was. Now Miss Terry only yelled at me when I made too much noise or moved around too much in my seat. One morning, weeks later, I arrived at school to find that Miss Terry had given me an alternate location, out in the hall. I now had two desks. At first, she only sent me to the hallway occasionally for brief periods. Then she began sending me there more frequently, for longer periods, until the hallway became my primary location. I spent most of the rest of that year there. Alone in the hall, I’d play with my erasers as if they were cars, and my pencils as if they were people. I’d sharpen my pencils shorter and shorter, obsessed with the pencil sharpener, with the gears inside, the sound it made, how the shavings uncurled as I slowly twisted the pencils down to nubs. I brought little toys and electrical wire from home to play with. I wound the wire around the leg of my desk in the shape of a gearshift and pretended to race up and down the halls. Often, I’d get up from my desk and peek into the classroom through the small window in the door, straining to hear whatever I could. On bad days, when I was sure no one was looking, I’d cry. I wasn’t smart enough to keep up with the other kids, but I was desperate to know what I was missing. They were learning all the important things they’d need to know to live on their own someday.

Dummy: a Memoir  
Dummy: a Memoir  

David Patten was born in 1954 with a cognitive disorder (later diagnosed in the Autism Spectrum) that profoundly challenged his ability to p...

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