When I was a child people hadn’t really heard about Autism. Many doctors were trying to cover the condition up as a myth, and many social workers would misinterpret Autism as parental neglect.
It’s a sad fact that many of them still do. However, today I’m blogging about being a child with Autism, not about having a child with Autism and all of the legal and medical battles I had to face to prove that my son needed help and that I needed support. I shall save that for another day. I’ve been asked to try to explain what it is like to be a person with Autism, so that is what I shall do.
I was a seemingly normal little girl. Blonde, pretty, inquisitive and with a huge interest in English Language, English Literature and History. I skipped rope in the playground; I chased boys playing “kiss-chase”. I did handstands against the school wall and giggled with friends. I even had a “boyfriend”; Jonothan.
By the time I began school I had the reading, writing and vocabulary skills of a seven year old (I was not quite five) and hearing about early man bored me because I was already learning about the colourful Medieval period due to my Grandfather’s own passion for that time in history. In those subjects I was learning nothing, because there was nothing for me to learn.
On several occasions my mother was asked to visit the Headmistress. Initially I believe it was to do with my advanced reading and writing ability because the Headmistress believed that I was somehow cheating. My mother explained that you simply couldn’t get my nose out of a book if there was a book anywhere in my vicinity.
As to my history apathy? The Head realised that I was far advanced in my knowledge, I think, as she would attempt to catch me out with a sudden question and I readily knew the answer. She began to set me more advanced tests to the other children and I always passed.
I was seen as a gifted child. It didn’t occur to anybody that I might have “special talents” that I adhered to because I was Autistic. Back in 1979 that wouldn’t have been something that sprang to anybody’s mind.
It was in the playground that my condition really presented itself. I was a loner for the most part, with few friends. I would spend dinner hour spinning around and around on the spot, looking up at the sky, because I loved feeling almost dizzy enough to collapse.
To me, I was the only living, breathing person on the planet. Everybody else – including my parents – were robots that had somehow been manufactured to keep me company. The reason I thought like this was that I couldn’t feel what they felt and had no empathy whatsoever. If a child teased me and I were to hit them during one of my meltdowns, it would not occur to me that the child I’d hit could feel pain in the same manner that I could. They weren’t real to me.
On regular occasions I would simply switch off, or “blank out”. It’s still not known whether this is one of my Autistic traits or if I was having Epileptic seizures, but back then it was put down to an imaginative writer “daydreaming”. Obsessions came and went; they still do.
Now, as an adult, I still have trouble communicating with people. I still find it physically painful to maintain eye contact for long, I don’t always understand something that is being said to me because I interpret it in an entirely different way, and I will sometimes say something inappropriate or hurtful in a situation without meaning to and without understanding why people are upset. Those who matter understand and try to explain. I need them to do that.
It can be very difficult for a person with Autism to blend in. We do try though, and we long to be accepted. The reason that many of us indulge in our hobbies, interests and/or obsessions so much – rather than interact and mingle – is that we are often afraid of being misunderstood and ridiculed.
Please, give us a chance before writing us off as people making excuses for the way we are. When you do that, you only serve to increase the stigma surrounding brain disorders and cause people to be afraid of us.
We are not slow, or stupid, or challenged, or somehow alien. We are people, just like you. Our brains are just wired a little bit differently to anybody elses.
It is difficult for us “Auties” to integrate with so-called neuro-typicals. Please bear with us and accept that not everybody can be like everybody else. Many Autistic individuals have given much to this world; artists, scientists, psychiatrists, musicians… any Autistic person near you might be the next person to change the world for the better.