Friends, Family, Colleagues, Peers, sometimes Enemies. A variety of people that come and go during our lives. Some of them we know very little about, yet others profoundly well… or so we like to think. Lots of different relationships and events bring us very close to people throughout our lives, but these relationships and evens can sometimes be the things that distance us in our lives.
In life when we look at all the different relationships we have, and we think about the people we are close to; we often start to believe that we “know them inside-out.” Even our peers, colleagues and others we are not that close to we can make predictions and assumptions about. These predictions and assumptions are something I wanted to write about today.
As an autistic individual, I have always been a little bit different; maybe a little bit quirky. This difference made my life at high school a challenge at times, as I often had a poor relationship with my peers. These poor relationships were often due to a lot of predictions, assumptions and misconceptions that my peers made of me, causing damage to my social development.
As an Autistic Adult, I wish to share some things I wish my peers knew back when I was at school.
When it came to things being too much and having a meltdown, people did not often understand. I was often seen leaving the room without reason, crying without reason, getting angry or shouting without reason. These were all the ways my body had to let out when things got too much for me. People often saw this as me being weak and sensitive. If anything, I think it should show how strong I am as an individual, and surely shows how much I must have been going through at that moment.
Something else I was often seen as was a snitch. Often going to tell somebody off to a teacher, or was I? I completely see how it may look like that is the case, but what about a different idea. Maybe I was going to an adult I trust, and adult who makes me feel safe who might help me to understand the social situation. The adult just has a duty to ensure people are safe and behaving in a respectable manner and would sometimes need to intervene. Stopping the situation I did not understand also helped me to feel safe.
I often did not feel safe without my close friends. I would feel very anxious causing me to become quite closed and occasionally snappy towards others. In lessons I would often be sat alone because I did not feel welcome to sit with any peers.
I wish when I was at school, I had peers who understood this. Peers who would explain things to me to help me understand and make me feel safe while making me feel included.
I then had the visual triggers such as the bright lighting on the ceiling, then the one lightbulb that keep flickering, the intense sunlight beaming through the tiny gap in the blinds. The glare off the board from the projector? All those displays and posters all around the classroom, using lots of bright colours, big writing getting your attention – yet being told to face the front.
I also had the sound of pens and pencils being used on the paper in books, a slight buzz from the computer speakers, the squeaking of chewing gum on people’s teeth, the school bell blasting throughout the long and echoing corridors, the screeching of somebody’s shoes on the laminate flooring, the bang of somebody slamming their bag onto the desk.
Some touch issued I had were my school uniform feeling funny on my skin. Feeling the seam on my blazer pressing through my shirt causing me discomfort but having to wear it all the time because the rule book said so. Even things like how those chairs that encourage good posture digging into my back as soon as I slouch, causing me to be tense.
Proprioception issues such as not knowing where each part of my body was. On stairs for example I did not always know if my foot was always on a step properly (dyspraxia does not help with this), but then having people pushing and shoving from both directions. Feeling overcrowded and suffering with all the other sensory issues in the school corridor was a scary experience. It would often make me feel motion sick.
I remember once I was in a very busy corridor and everyone was pushing in every direction. I then fell into a member of staff and stood on her toes before being consumed by this crowd. I just remember her screaming and starting to shout at people, then going to shout at the person who she thought stood on her toes. I was relieved she did not think it was me but felt rather guilty that somebody else got into trouble for it.
I wish when I was at school, I had peers who understood this. Peers who would reassure me and help me to feel safe in school and be more aware to how they could be affecting me.
I personally found it very tricky to explain how to solve a question on the spot in front of the class. I had not thought of the words I was going to say or how to sequence those words to ensure I communicated the correct thing and that I was clear.
A simpler task such as copying something down from the whiteboard was tricky for me. I had to remember what part I had to copy down, remember the words as I write down a part, then remember where I got to on the whiteboard, then remember where I got to in my book or diary. Words and information would often be written in short or incorrectly. Moving me closer to the whiteboard does not help as it just makes the writing bigger, it does not help me process the information any easier or faster.
Linking back to finding social situations tricky, processing issues can add to this. All about keeping up and following a conversation. By the time I process the information and can come up with a response, the conversation has moved on.
Imagine you are a computer with lots of programs open. You are running slower because of all the programs that are open, but you must still do the tasks that are expected. If I am the computer and everything around me is a program but I still need to do the tasks that I am expected to do, then it will take me longer. That is how it feels to be me.
I wish when I was at school, I had peers who understood this. Peers who would slow down for me and help me by rewording things for me if I needed. Peers who could help me explain to somebody who did not understand this.
To think of these as things my peers could have done to support me back when I was at school makes me wonder how different my school life could have been. I had some wonderful friends who were there for me and very supportive at times, but the times they were not were the tricky ones. Getting the right support to help an autistic individual is key to all levels of success, not just academic success.