02/04/2014 10:16 BST | Updated 02/06/2014 06:59 BST

Learning to Listen

In first grade I sat at an old, wooden desk. As a class, we were reading, "Lucy Doesn't Listen". We didn't get far into the book when some of my fellow students chanted, "Lanette doesn't listen," and many of the other students started giggling. We had a stern teacher who looked about a hundred-eighty-years-old and told everyone to hush as she glared at me. To many children, the teasing might have hurt, but it was one of the rare times I received attention from my peers. Perhaps that's why the teacher glared at me--I was smiling.

I have known from an early age that I was different. It wasn't because I taught myself to read at the age of four. It wasn't even because I was the youngest student in that small school out in the empty plains of Texas. It became obvious that I was different because my classmates treated me as though I were different. I didn't know how to play with them. I didn't know how to talk to them. I didn't even know how to listen to them. My mind became my only friend, so that's where I stayed.

Throughout my childhood, I tried to have friends, but for the most part, I didn't understand my peers or what I was supposed to say to them or how to act. I was different. But I loved books and enjoyed writing, so I spent my time reading and trying to emulate the styles of my favorite authors. My books and their characters became my friends. At that time, the condition Asperger's wasn't known in the US. Children who would have been diagnosed today were considered odd and treated as outcasts back then.

While in high school, my mom once criticized me for not knowing how to read and understand people's non-verbal cues. Less than a week later, or perhaps the next day, she left a book on the coffee table on how to read body language. I would love to say that I read the book from front to back. I didn't, though I read enough to pick up a few hints, but the main thing is that the book opened my eyes to something that was intuitive to most--people actually communicate more with their body than with their words. This book had an impact on me because I saw it as a tool to understanding people around me. I started watching others and mimicking their facial expressions, body language, and voice inflections. I got a lot of weird looks. Okay, I wasn't good at it, in fact, I sucked. But I kept trying.

In college, I met some outcasts. They weren't outcasts in the same way I was; actually, they were fun and laughed a lot. At first these students made me nervous because I didn't understand their jokes, but one in particular made me feel like I belonged, and over time I picked up his sense of humor. They also played role-playing games, something I wasn't into, while I sat at the table with them and wrote poetry and short stories. In that weird relationship, something magical took place. They accepted my oddities, talked to me, and invited me to do things with them. I continued studying their body language, but more importantly, I learned to listen to them, and they learned how to listen to me. Since then, I've come to a point in my life that I no longer have to focus on how to read people and interact with them. With any learned behavior, it became easy and natural with continued practice.

My writing continued from when I was a little girl and it led me to write about a woman who has suffered greatly in life. Her struggles are very different from mine, but she represents everyone who has had to fight for a sense of normalcy. I wrote this book because a lot of people suffer with differences or tragedies that have crippled and redefined them somehow, and I grieve when they feel lost and helpless to change because I know what that's like. I want readers to realize they're not alone. I also know that change is very difficult but is worth the struggles. I know this because I have a fulfilling life with friends, a loving husband, and children. I know this because I have learned to listen.