This image depicts a slice of a conversation I had this afternoon with a young teenage girl and her mother. I had been asked to chat to her as there has been talk that she may be autistic and she was struggling to cope with the world, and school in particular.
Her parents are trying to get the help she needs; meanwhile her life feels topsy turvy while she tries to make sense of the world around her; and the peers who should be her friends but just appear as though they are ‘aliens’.
One day she feels on top of the world; the next she feels as though she is not worthy. She is a beautiful young lady, with a heart of gold. My fur babies instantly fell in love with her which makes her a good person in my eyes. Within seconds of meeting her, they were rolling around waiting for tummies to be rubbed. Holly, usually very wary of strangers and especially children, was snuggling up to her as she would to my husband.
Secondary school is difficult for her; she is aching to find her place there but it is not easy. I confessed that I felt the same at her age; it was the year I was bullied: emotionally, name calling, bag being thrown carelessly around the room; every attempt to embarrass me. Why… I still don’t understand. I had done nothing to anyone; I went to school, I read mostly, hated PE, and wanted to learn. Why was this bad? I watched my peers, trying to copy their clothes, the way they did their hair, or used eye shadow. Did I want to be like them? Perhaps. Mostly I just wanted to fit in so that they would leave me alone… literally. I would offer to help teachers tidy classrooms; anything to prevent me from having to interact in the playground. Perhaps I was seen as a teacher’s pet. Looking back it was highly likely.
Chatting with this young lady was supposed to be for her benefit… it began to feel like therapy for me; a way to let out all the feelings I had kept locked up for decades perhaps? I talked and talked; so much I exhausted myself. Despite us autistics not being able to read facial expressions, I knew the moment she’d had enough; the moment I had given her too much information. I tried to slow down, to wrap it up, but still my voice kept on going. Now I feel exhausted and guilty that I had overloaded her as I was trying to help.
I left her with a few small coping strategies. I always maintain I don’t just want to cope, but for now that’s what she needed from me. Enough to at least get her to school without a panic attack. She is going home to start a journal; where she can let out whatever is in her thoughts and heart, without saying it aloud, without having to engage with another and not know what to expect in return. She is going home to work with her parents, in building a ‘chill out zone’ within her room, or somewhere in the house. Another autistic child I know has a ‘tent-like’ space in his room with lots of squishy cushions, lights and books. His quiet space. I would quite like a version for myself in fact.
My own get away is go visit the cinema alone during the day when I can. I love to do this; sitting in the dark, focusing on a movie, not having to engage with anyone else. I always pre-book my seat in the same position of the cinema – top right hand corner looking at the screen. I have a wall behind me for safety; a little shelf for my bag to safely sit and I can see every position including the entrance from this seat. No surprises. Complete control.
I feel bad that she and her parents are now going to start the often horrendous process that is diagnosis and all that goes with it for a child. I hope her school are sympathetic and will do something to help her find a ‘chill out space’ within the school. Ironically she wants to be a primary school teacher when she is older; perhaps help other children not to experience what she has herself.
When will girls get the help they need; the recognition that autism is not just for boys? We don’t want to just cope. We want to thrive, to live…
Until next time…