My brain works differently than many of my peers. Not less than. Not wrong. Not “bad,” as some people have often suggested. Just……DIFFERENT. I process the world around me – sounds, smells, thoughts, and feelings in a way that neurotypical people do not always understand. I am a bright, creative, fun, and loving autistic child; neurodivergent in a neurotypical world that doesn’t always understand me. I want you to understand me. I already love you for attempting to understand.
Early on, teachers often complained that I needed more discipline. Sometimes the comments were rude and blunt, like the time a teacher told me “M, don’t let Mommy be such an enabler.” I didn’t even know what the word ‘enabler’ meant since I was only three years-old, but it sure upset my Mommy when she heard it. It had something to do with Mommy carrying my backpack because I was not safely walking from our car into the preschool. I remember that it was snowing out and I was excited to see snow falling, but the happiness came out as hyperactivity, and I almost ran into an oncoming car. My Mommy was trying to help me keep my body calm and safe, so she helped me by carrying my backpack and holding onto myself and my four-year-old sister closely. Thank you Mommy for keeping me safe. I love you for knowing what I needed.
Sometimes the comments were less obvious, like the time a teacher told Mommy and Daddy “Well….WHAT can I say about M…..I mean….he obviously gets WHATEVER he wants? Big sister and little sister….Mom and Dad….ALL GIVE HIM SO MUCH LOVE AND ATTENTION.” (Insert sound of teacher’s condescending laughter) I overheard Mommy saying that my teacher was disappointed that I could not remain in my chair, and I didn’t always listen. Mommy said that my teacher was being passive-aggressive, but I didn’t understand what that meant. What I do know is that I overheard my Mommy and Daddy refusing to believe that I was a “bad” kid. My teacher had suggested that I just needed more discipline. I always try to be good. REALLY! I do try, but sometimes sounds hurt my ears and that makes my body feel like I need to run away, and I cannot sit quietly. Sometimes the lights make a buzzing noise that only I can hear. The buzzing makes me nervous, and I cannot concentrate. Other times the smells around me make me sick to my stomach and I need to move away from it before I become sick. I just want the bad feelings to stop. I try to stay seated. I try to listen. The urge to run takes over; it is too strong….I go into fight or flight mode. Mommy and Daddy know I try. I love you Mommy and Daddy for knowing that I am good.
Behavior is a way to communicate. When I act out, I am not intentionally giving the adults around me a tough time. When I am struggling, my actions are my way of trying to tell you something that I do not have the words for. I am uncomfortable, or things around me are overwhelming. My needs are not being met and I need help learning how to advocate for myself. I can never advocate for myself if I am constantly given the message that my voice does not matter. (Even if I had no formal language, my “voice” still needs to be respected – you can figure it out if you really try). When you validate my upset and discomfort, you are showing me that I am important, and I am more likely to listen to you because I trust you and feel safe. I am never trying to manipulate anyone either. I have heard that word from adults around me. MANIPULATIVE. “He is being MANIPULATIVE!” I don’t even know what that word means so how can I be accused of something I do not even understand? I AM HAVING A TOUGH TIME. I need YOUR HELP to do well. I need help learning to calm my body and brain. I do well when I can. I really am always trying. The teachers that I love know how hard I try, appreciate me just as I am and are genuine in wanting to help me feel safe to grow. I love my teachers for respecting who I am.
Forcing me into compliance in the interest of teaching “school readiness,” is not going to help me at all. COMPLIANCE. Another word that I don’t fully understand. Why can’t I draw in my notebook if it helps me to concentrate? I am listening to everything you say, even if I am doodling. Seriously! Just ask me. I might even be the only kid who answers you. I also will not always look directly into your eyes. If you want me to really hear and process what you are saying, please do not force me to make eye contact. I am not being rude. I can’t concentrate on what you are saying when forced to maintain eye contact; it is like an onslaught of sensory input. Eye contact causes me nausea and physical discomfort and it is legitimately painful. Just because you do not experience this or understand does not make it any less real for me. Compliance only makes YOUR life easier when dealing with me. I need something else. I need patience, understanding and tools to help regulate myself. Once I feel safe with you, I can be open to learning better ways to calm myself, be open to learning math or spelling and only then will I thrive at school…..or whatever you would like me to do. The neurotypical world is not exactly set up for kids like me who learn and process the world differently. To the neurotypical people out there who try to enter my world rather than forcing me to be a square peg jammed into a round hole, thank you for not trying to change me. I am not broken. I love you for knowing my value.
I often have a limited amount of what I call “safe” foods. No matter how insistent others might be that my parents should just force me to eat what the family eats, I will not eventually give in to hunger because my body doesn’t always properly identify that I am hungry. Certain food textures also make me physically ill. I wasn’t being a manipulator and discipline problem at the age of four when I would continually regurgitate even while eating my favored foods. It was not kind of the adult in charge of lunch at my school to just take away my food as a punishment. I really wanted that food. People generally need food to function well throughout a day. It was just difficult for me to chew. Lunchtime is a difficult experience in overloaded senses if you are a child like me. Did she really think that going all day without eating, would improve my daily behavior? HANGRY is a real thing. I was just having a tough time being overwhelmed with the smells, sounds and movement of seventeen other children being so close to me. I needed you to see that I needed some space. Years later, a nice teacher would bring her own food from home when she saw that I wasn’t eating. I love you for knowing I would love soft, mini bagels.
If you see my family out at a restaurant while I am wearing headphones and using my iPad, please keep in your lane Karen, and refrain from the negative comments or eye rolls. My parents know what they are doing Karen. Technology is how I can best regulate myself and it is how I can get through a loud family event or dinner without having a major meltdown. NO….I will not just become desensitized and “get over it,” if forced by my parents to suffer through something that is legitimately painful for me. I don’t insist that you sit next to someone and just “get over it,” as someone blasts an airhorn into your ear repeatedly (that is truly what a loud restaurant feels like for me) so don’t expect the same for me. Again…..if you do not know the experience first hand you are unqualified to comment. Besides….you bring your phone into the crapper with you. Gross. Don’t even act like that’s normal or hygienic. I enjoy going out with my family and ask for it often. My enjoyment and time spent with family just looks a little different than what you are used to. To all the Karens who would like to comment but choose to keep it to themselves, thank you. I love you for semi-knowing.
STOP trying to make me typical. I never will be typical. ATYPICAL IS NOT EVEN A DIRTY WORD! Atypical is who I am, and I am completely the way I was meant to be. By not allowing me to be who I am, you do not fully value my existence. You will cause me to dislike and distrust myself while also being in a constant state of anxiety. The overwhelming stress of not being “good enough” will lead to behavior that you see as negative, but I view as essential to my survival because my instinctual reaction will be to FIGHT. I have every right to “fight back” when I am not being seen….not being listened to…and not treated as valid. I am not LESS THAN because I am different. I also cannot change my neurotype. My brain is wired differently. All the therapy in the world will never change that. The more you strip me of being myself and of having any control in my life, the more difficult my behavior will become. (Actually…..it might also be beneficial for neurotypical children to receive the same kind of acceptance – its O.K. to not always fit “the mold”) The more you deprive me of the ability to have choices because I either, cannot speak or act in a typical way….the more I will shut down and not respond to you. I may do the unexpected at times. Please have patience with me and try to see things through a different lens. Reframe it. For those of you who see my value, thank you. For those of you who try to understand my differently viewed world, I love you for “seeing” my authentic self.