Alongside all the positive aspects of being autistic there are also many struggles and I am often struck by the lack of support afforded to parents and individuals in our society when it comes to autistic struggles. This is not to say people are not trying to understand it is just they cannot possibly understand the day to day without living or experiencing it.
When a child presents at school as being compliant but melts down, hits out or seems to be struggling at home this can be due to masking. Here Josie explains how she feels at school.
Josie 12 year old autistic girl, explaining how she feels at school:
“School doesn’t feel like a safe place, I seem to get things wrong socially. In the past some children noticed my awkwardness and my stims and they laughed at me or I would say something at the wrong time and they would look at me oddly. Now they look for me to bully me every lunchtime. I have two safe friends but other children are mean to us so we try to stay in the corners of the playground and play out of the way. The adults don’t really help in the playground, I wish there was a safe place. I can’t let anyone see me cry at school so I hold it together.
Then we go back into class and I find it so hard to follow what the teacher is saying, I am exhausted from the stress of lunchtime. I drift off and I get told off for not listening but honestly I can’t. I feel like I need information in bite size portions but in lessons I have to try to concentrate for so long. I wish lessons were more active that is how I learn best and how I seem to remember. I feel like I have tried so hard all day to be good at everything and I fail.
I go home to my safe place and I just feel so angry, I am angry with my Mum and Dad because they can’t fix it for me. I want to be with my friends at school but no one else. I just do not want it all to be so hard. I am so wound up by the time I get home I just scream and cry and refuse to do anything because at home I have some degree of control.
It has been like this for as long as I can remember but when I was little I could not say how or why I felt so angry, sad and anxious. I feel like I am on high alert all the time and my stims (which help) just make it worse with others at school. I feel trapped like a caged animal at school like I am a rabbit trapped in a cage with wolves and when I go home I am released, but I know I have to go back to the cage tomorrow and the next day.”
Autistic children are often less able to process and verbalise what is happening to them. They are often unaware that they are seeing the world through a different lens to their peers. Many think literally but this can make them vulnerable . As so many cannot verbalise their issues their struggles can go unnoticed and as with the example above these children return day after day to a traumatising school environment.
Josie’s parents had asked how to decrease their daughter’s stims so that she was no longer bullied. It seems to me that as a society we must do more to educate children about differences. We need to create playground cultures which are supportive and create an education system which caters to children who fall outside the box .