Updated: Feb 14
I went to school in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Things were very different then. There were a lot of things about school that I disliked. The work was too hard for me to understand. I found it very hard to be able to talk with the other children.
There was no way to talk about how difficult everything was and no one to talk about it to if I had been able to. It felt very much like being in a prison. Because of this I always liked PE when we could get outside.
The things that I found I enjoyed the most were break times and times when I could be creative. I liked art and although I struggled for years to learn to read and write, I came to be very good at English and enjoyed writing stories. I used to learn new words a lot from the dictionary, because I didn’t know how to express myself very well.
I am hopeful that after all this time, things in schools have changed, and school is better for you than it was for me.
If things in your area have not changed that much after all, then know that the Autistic adult community and our amazing allies are working on your behalf to change things for the better. You can tell your parents to contact us (London Autism Group Charity), and we will give your family some advice on how to help and support you. We can also employ other Autistic experts who can talk to the school and help them understand what support you need and how to get it.
During the difficult times we have been living in, it is sometimes difficult to deal with all the changes to our usual routines. One thing that we do to cope with stressful situations, thoughts and feelings, is to do something that gives us a soothing sensory feeling. This is what we call stimming, because it is stimulation.
A stim can be anything that we do with our bodies to help us relax. It is usually something that we repeat over and over. A stim can be a movement, a touch, a sound that you make or a sound that you hear. It is good that you know by instinct how to cope and to help yourself feel better.
You should have the right to stim and to calm yourself down. This could be by chewing, rocking, spinning around, moving your head, hands or legs, and any other sensory activity. To have a private space at school to take a sensory break would help you, I’m sure. It would help to have this on your timetable before difficult lessons, so that you can avoid getting even more stressed later on. It can also be a place of refuge when you have had a difficult experience. In my day, it was always the school library that I went to, because it was quiet and away from the classroom.
The world is full of different types of mind. We autistics are just one different type. We are different to the majority of people who are neurotypical. Our minds are neurodiverse.
Sometimes you will have challenges in life and you will need some extra support. That is okay.
Support should be about helping to make your life easier for you to live. It should not be about forcing you change, or to fit in. That would not be healthy for you. Rather, people in the world around us must learn to give us the rights and respect that we deserve.
As I look back at my own memories of when I was young I find that it is mostly the bad things that stick out. That’s okay, because things have changed since those days.
I did not understand that I was autistic until I was quite old. These days, autistic people are being found earlier, so I hope everyone can get the support they need. In London we are running our own charity to bring people some of that support, which is very exciting.
In this time of lockdowns there are negatives and positives. I understand that a lot of your routines will be disrupted, and that will be confusing and upsetting.
So much of life is unpredictable, and that can be upsetting and cause us worry. Change is never easy for us, but it is important to know that no change is forever. Things will eventually settle down and become more stable.
Whatever our abilities, it is a good thing to keep this in our minds, to remember the places that gave us enjoyment and made our fears go away. Look at a picture of that place and call up the good memories you have from the past. And remember, you will be back there again.
If you enjoyed the structure and the certainty that school gave you, but are feeling bad because lockdown has changed things, then remember that it is not gone forever and that it will return in the future.
Some of us will actually be happy to be at home and not going to school, because it is a break from all the pressure that is put upon them by others. This is a chance for us to think with our families and teachers, how to make life easier for us, when we eventually go back to school. What things did we find difficult to cope with? And what support could be given to us, so that things are not so hard for us in the future?
When I was young I didn’t have friends, so I spent most of my time indoors with my parents and sometimes with my older brother and sister. I would spend a lot of time in my room.
I had trouble at first learning to read and to write. It was a big effort for me to learn all the rules. Even to feel motivated to try was very hard. Eventually it was looking at the pictures of comic books that showed me a way in. It got me interested and I wanted to figure out what was happening to the characters in the pictures. So, I started to sound out the words. In a short time I was reading and suddenly, it wasn’t difficult for me at all.
As many autistic children are, I was drawn to the books with colourful pictures and to the stories within them that were all about fantasy worlds and strange people, places and creatures that are not of this world. If things didn’t go well for me in the real world, then reading became a way to escape from those things.
As I grew older, I had some favourite books which I would read regularly over again. This helped me to feel grounded and to relax if I was having a difficult time.
I found it tricky to play on my own at first. Coming up with my own ideas was hard. So I began to recreate things that I had seen on television, at first in lego and then when I was older I would make models.
Over the years, I’ve learned that if you go wrong, make a mistake, then its not the end of the world. Its no cause to be down on yourself. There is usually always a chance to learn from it, go back and correct your mistake. Then move on to the next challenge.
I learned this when I was faced with learning how to drive a car.
It took me many attempts and a lot longer than anyone else I knew. There were no Sat navs in those days, so I had to use a map and to remember the way to get somewhere.
I struggle to take in information, so I had to make some mistakes before I could learn everything I needed to. I struggle with the unknown, so I was constantly getting lost. But I learned that if you go in the wrong direction, then you can always turn around, go back, and take the right road. It is okay to make mistakes. That is how we learn.
You might take a lot longer to get somewhere, but you can reach your destination in the end. That is how I approach life. With support that is right for you, you can get to those far off places in the distance. You will do things that you never thought you could.
It will come with practice and with time.
I have more friends now. Those friends are much easier to talk to, because we think the same and a lot of the time we act the same.
My friends are mostly autistic, like me. It is important for you to know, that we are a tribe. We share an identity. And when you need your tribe, you can find us. With the internet, you can search for #ActuallyAutistic or #AskingAutistics to read other Autistic people's lived experiences.
You can also look at our charity online ( https://www.londonautismgroupcharity.org ) to find activities and support services. If you reach out, the Autistic community will be there for you.
See you out there.