I’ve recently finished working in a secondary school for Autistic children.
When I think of how I was before that job and how I am now, I can say it’s changed me. And, I think for the better.
It was a steep learning curve and extremely challenging to begin working in a school for Autistic children. Every child was completely and utterly unique. They all had their own obsessions, their own triggers, their own ways of doing things, saying things or showing emotions. It was my job to learn absolutely everything about each child and find a way to use that information to support them in any way they needed.
With varying abilities each child offered a unique challenge. But also a unique insight about their world around them. Their perspectives were so wildly different it was magical to see the world through each of their eyes and attempt to understand how they viewed the day to day.
I realised as time went on I was learning so much from them. I was adopting their way of thinking about ideas presented to them. I was shedding layers of conformity that had built up around me as a neurotypical individual living ‘successfully’ in society.
As a neurotypical person, I innately and without effort learned how to be a perfect human, how to fit in with everyone else, how to supress any ‘weirdness’ or ‘odd’ behaviour, how to say and do the right things so people around me were comfortable and accepted me without question.
These ideas were put into question the longer I was around these wonderful beings. I grew confident to act ‘foolish’, to shout out loud for no reason, to sing and dance with students. I developed the lack of caring and embarrassment when something silly happened, I was surrounded by people who didn’t pass judgement because you did something ‘wrong’ or you did something in the ‘wrong’ way. Nothing mattered. Be wild and free, love and obsess over something and be proud about it.
There’s no hiding the truth in Autism. No protecting other people’s feelings by keeping your mouth shut. Every child had the strength and ability to say how they felt about anything, they were brutally honest and never held back and no one got into trouble with others for doing so. I found myself acquiring that skill of saying anything and everything and boyyyy it was freedom! I can say no and not cringe and shrivel into a ball in fear of upsetting the person I was denying. I can say ‘I don’t like that’ without dancing around the bush to soften the blow.
It breaks my heart when some of the students struggled with their diagnosis. I can’t relate directly but I can imagine it isn’t easy. Some wished they weren’t Autistic. We, as a school would celebrate their Autism and remind them how au-some it can be!
One of my final conversations with one of the students went like this… We were discussing 9/11, he said “why didn’t anyone ring 911.”
I said, “I am sure they did.”
I said I had watched a documentary about the people in the towers and how it took far to long for them to evacuate because of sheep mentality – individuals after having noticed smoke coming under the doors did not alert anyone out of fear of looking silly and breaking from the herd.
The student pondered this for a moment and said, “So, you’re telling me, if the people in the building had all been Autistic, then a lot more of them would have survived?”
I laughed, “in theory, I guess so, an Autistic person would not have cared for social norms and remaining with the herd, they’d of leaped out the building as soon as they noticed the danger.”
I went on to describe what it feels like to not be able to do and say certain things around others because it’s “not normal”. I said sometimes it can be crippling, like being squashed into a box and told to not make a sound. He asked me why did we behave like this? I said we’re taught to, and that’s why Autism is so great…
You are not shackled by a script we were all told to follow. You are free to express yourself unapologetically – We can all learn from Autistic people and I thank them for what I have learned supporting those students.