What does autism mean to you if you’re autistic yourself, or if you are a loved one of somebody who is going along on a constant journey to find themselves?
Does it mean a sense of frustration when things just don’t work in the way that they do for ‘normal’ people? Does it mean confusion and then annoyance when other people that don’t understand autism are narrow minded enough to assume that you are just badly behaved or ignorant? Does it mean vomit on your shoes?
Okay, that last thought may seem a little bit strange but when compared with the first two, each of those scenarios apply to me. Different events throughout development have shaped my view of autism, and I think it is time to find out if anybody else has experienced similar moments that have defined their autistic understanding if I’m going to improve my own.
I’ve been asking people with autism in their lives through social media about how they’ve learned from good and bad experiences to become stronger as a result.
I’ve had a chance to look at how defining moments have shaped the lives of autistic adults and children, and I’ve realised that I was lucky to only meet one bully who made me feel incredibly small for a few years at school.
Seeing his digested pizza from lunchtime reappear on my shoe wasn’t a proud moment but I’m glad it hasn’t scarred me.
I get as excited as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle when a tasty treat is hanging around!
What upsets me is when a completely unavoidable situation can profoundly affect an autistic person or in the case of Ann McLean, a mum that is trying to look out for her son.
Autism may be something that is a mystery as a disability, but Ann has found that some people can deal with it in a better way than others.
By taking her son to a nursery which had never dealt with an autistic child before, Ann believed that: “They had never had an autistic child before and the staff didn’t know what to do with him.”
Through constant worries about bad behaviour and punishment, which included incidents where hitting, biting and pushing were involved, Ann attempted to talk to teaching staff about the reasons why these acts were taking place.
She says that she had no joy in getting them to understand the reasons for what she describes as “all wrong” behaviour, but her defining moment of worry has left her critical of the educational support that her son received:
“I found two members of staff holding him down. He couldn’t move. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The teacher sitting on his ankles and another with her arms wrapped around his body. That sight will stay with me forever. The head teacher convinced me it was a one-off and necessary, and that it would never happen again. Well it did and we withdrew him from the nursery.”
This story has made me think as I’ve dealt with problems such as bullying, depression and loneliness as I’ve grown up, but restraint when there was seemingly no understanding of the issues that Ann’s son faced is surely wrong?
Saying that I’ve been lucky to avoid the same problems would be a terrible thing to say, but it is sometimes good to see autism through a fresh pair of eyes and realise there have been some terrible moments in the struggle to live in an autistic world for other people.
I’m lucky to be who I am today.