Since I realised I’m almost certainly autistic I’ve been constantly watching and analysing all my actions, thoughts and feelings. I relate them all back to autism. Some days I feel – for want of a better term – very autistic. Other times I wonder if I’m imagining things because I got by ‘fine'(ish) for many years before I even really knew what autism was.
How is it possible, for almost three decades, I didn’t even consider I might have autism but now I feel it limits my life every day?
Tyger starting school has made me think back to my own primary school experience. Unlike the anxiety filled mess I am now, I was a supremely confident and somewhat precocious child. Does that mean I was somehow less autistic back then?
No. In fact, my ‘confidence’ was probably largely due to a lack of understanding when it came to normal social boundaries and at least some of my precociousness was probably because of my obsessive nature.
I became curious, though, thinking about me as a child and how my teachers might have viewed me. Thankfully, my mum kept all my report cards from school so I have been able to see precisely what they thought (or, at least what they were happy to tell my parents).
In terms of my work, the theme throughout all my primary school reports across two different schools seems to be I grasped the work well and showed good understanding…on the rare occasion I finished the work. Unfinished written work comes up a lot. And that fits with autism. My executive functioning skills have always been questionable at best. Working to a deadline is still something I struggle with.
In my reports I’m ‘chatty’ but also prone to ‘daydreaming’, which is interesting.
never ever shuts up chats a lot because he is unaware of certain social boundaries. Thinking back, I suspect I was much the same and that also makes me wonder whether there was an element of exhausting myself with too much social interaction followed by a shutdown when I became overloaded – hence the ‘daydreaming’.
Tyger has little absences when he’s overloaded. He stares off into space and doesn’t respond to his name or anyone talking to him. Was that what was going on with me?
The funniest part of the reports, though, is the ‘Personal and Social Development’ section at the end. One teacher wrote: ‘Nym is quite a character with a definite mind of her own. Fortunately she mostly decides to be cooperative and positive so we don’t often have a battle of wills!‘
In the same section the teacher I had the following year wrote: ‘Nym has firm ideas about her work and is not usually receptive to suggestions from others. In general she is helpful and cooperative but can occasionally show her displeasure when things do not go her way!‘
I promise I am copying these exactly, even down to the exclamation marks.
The following year (when I would have been seven) my teacher wrote: ‘Nym shows great independence – she seems as happy by herself as she is with her friends, she often prefers to work by herself rather than with a partner or group and often answers a task completely in her own way rather than following any suggestions.‘
Essentially, I was mostly a fairly happy child but I was rigid with my thinking and completely unwilling to compromise or bend my will for anyone. Huh…yeah, that sounds pretty autistic.
Moving away from the report cards, I remember eating my packed lunches and taking much, much longer than all my peers. When I was very young it was not unusual for me to be sat alone in the lunch hall after all the other children had finished and gone outside to play. I didn’t mind. I liked to chat to the dinner ladies; in fact, I often preferred talking to adults over children. (Wait…yeah, that would be an autistic trait, too.)
So, why did I take so long to eat my lunch? I was a fussy eater as a child (actually, I’m a fussy eater as an adult, too), which is not uncommon in autistic individuals. In the same way a lot of people on the spectrum struggle with noise or bright lights because they can’t filter it out like most neurotypical people can, they also often struggle with textures of food or strong flavours. Eating a meal means processing a lot of sensory information.
Now, I was also a slow eater at home (ah, how karma is laughing now when I get frustrated by Tyger and Bear taking two hours over meals) but at school there was even more going on. I remember quite vividly feeling hugely uncomfortable whenever I could smell someone else in the lunch hall eating a banana or orange/satsuma. It was noisy, too, with so many children all in one place and the lighting in halls is often unpleasant.
In the context of autism, my discomfort around eating in the lunch hall whilst all the other children were still there is completely understandable. Predictable, even.
I guess, I’ve always struggled due to autism – even as far back as Primary School. Not finishing school work, being unable to concentrate, clashing with teachers, not wanting to do group work, struggling to eat my lunch…these were all genuine problems I had.
It will be interesting to read Tyger’s report…
(If anyone reading this would like to find out more about how autism/Asperger’s might present in young girls, it’s worth reading this list by Tania Marshall.)