Autism & The school environment

I used to worry a lot about writing these personal posts, I was always worried about what people would think or say, how they would look at me and if they would talk about me behind my back. However. as sixth form continued and I still only had about 2 friends, I realised that I didn't owe it to anyone to keep my feelings locked away, to keep my anxieties held back in fear of making them feel awkward or uncomfortable. If you still feel uncomfortable about someone telling you about a mental health or similar problem that they have, then you don't deserve to be their friend. It's as simple as that. I guess now, I don't really care what people think because why would I want to be friends with someone who is embarrassed to go to social events with me in fear that I'll have a meltdown? That isn't healthy. 
I want to write about how being autistic has affected me in certain areas of my life but I'm going to start with in the school environment; a compilation of primary school to sixth form and how it has made me feel. I don't think that this is going to be an incredibly positive post but I suppose good things have occurred as a result of it. I just want people to be aware of how different situations affect different people and let's be honest, society could be a little more open minded about diversity. 

For a back story, I was diagnosed with autism in my early teenage years after years of psychiatrist appointments because I was never deemed as society's idea of "normal". I remember in primary school when I barely spoke to anyone at all and when I had a bad bout of mental health in secondary school, it was obvious that I was different. I had seen so many people from constant CAMHs appointments to education psychiatrists and doctors to school therapists, they weren't the best years of my life. It wasn't just my autism at that point, I had spiralled into some sort of depression but I like to think I'm getting better now. Anyway, I was discharged from CAMHs in 2014 and since then, I've been working on myself. I'm getting there. The label of "autistic" doesn't phase me much anymore, it's just part of my personality but parts of it did make education a very difficult part of my life...

When I think back to primary and secondary school, I feel sick at the thought of class presentations. The ones where you would be made to stand up and talk to the class about a "topic of your choice" but it wasn't of your choice at all because your teacher would give you that look if you displayed even a slightly different interest to the majority. You would tell them you don't feel comfortable and their response would be "just try your best". My "best" was dragging myself here this morning, I am drained and anxious. Do not make me stand in front of a group of people that already think I'm weird. But they would anyway. 

Cue the meltdown. 

During my secondary school years especially, I lost track of how many times my mother would have to come and pick me up early because the school and teachers just didn't know how to deal with me. They'd try and force me to sit in a room I didn't feel comfortable in, try and take my phone when that felt like my safety or threaten me to do something to the point that I could barely breathe but all that mattered to them was my attendance or how "polite" I seemed. Oh how I hated the words "polite" and "rude", because I didn't know how to smile at people I was referred to as "rude", because I didn't like to talk to lots of different people I was "rude", yet I was probably one of the most open minded people there because I understood that people had different needs. All they were worried about was test scores and how well "behaved" we seemed according to Ofsted. 

One of the main parts of my experience with autism are my sensory issues. In a later post, we will discuss how this has led me to having an incredibly restricted diet with some foods being completely out of the question due to texture, taste and smell. The one that really caused me problems within the school environment was sound. It causes me problems in all situations but in schools, you can't tell a class of 30 to please shut up because your ears are ringing so much and due to their volume, you will now be feeling sick all day as a result. PE was the main problem, anyone who knows me will be aware of my ongoing problems with the PE department, especially in my secondary school. By the end of my time there, my mother and I had finally managed to make them let me sit in a room by myself but that took far too long to happen, they were adamant on getting their own way and honestly, whether they argue against it or not, they were lazy. They didn't want to go through the paperwork of dismissing me from PE and so thought it better to give me weekly panic attacks until I eventually succeeded in my need to be somewhere quiet. The sound of loud PE sessions used to drive me insane but even the small sounds like a ball hitting a bat or someone running would make me very anxious and I still really don't know why. Sometimes I wonder if it's due to my subconscious knowing that I'm not able to do that stuff and so it made me anxious to listen to but either way, it was hell. Also, the PE kits were horrible feeling which used to make my skin itch yet they still insisted for about 2 years that I wear it even if I'm not partaking, I didn't though. Why should I go through with someone that makes me feel so uncomfortable for the sake of one less teacher argument when by this point I was having a few daily? Communication with teachers has never been a strong point of mine though. 

In sixth form, I had much lower than average attendance due to an abundance of physical illnesses throughout the two years as well as my anxiety becoming much, much worse. Some days, I tried so hard to get myself to school but it just didn't happen and I was constantly insulted for that. I was continuously made to feel like I didn't try hard enough when I was achieving some of the best marks in my classes and now I'm left feeling like I'll definitely be going through clearing because of the little hope my school had in me. I proved them wrong when I got 5/5 offers from universities, 3 of those being Russell Group universities but part of me feels like they will be like "I told you so" when they see my failure on results day. I just don't appreciate how little I was believed in when I had been months ahead in all of my subjects from working at home and I was still basically told I wasn't good enough because I didn't follow the average way of education. It all comes back to the idea that they really didn't like me because I didn't follow their lesson plans or ways of teaching, funny how by the time exams came round, I had a number of people coming to me for help. Can't have been that useless, right?

I feel like I read into things too much but I can't help it, it's just part of my mind. Honestly, most days are hell when I have to go outside or sometimes even see people and I don't think people get how bad it is but I'm trying to live with it. If you read my post about finishing compulsory education, you will know that my relationships with teachers have never been grand. There's been a couple of times when I've found myself getting on ok with a teacher but most of the time, they really aren't a fan of me. I can't say I'm the biggest fan of them either though. I guess one thing that really bothers me is that I didn't choose to be like this, I didn't choose to not be like all of the passive people in your class who just let you teach even when you are saying things that aren't even on the syllabus or you are saying things that could cause offence to individuals, including me. Sometimes, I wish that I could just be like everyone else to save the conflict, but I can't. 

It still bothers me how little friends I have, or maybe it's just that I'm hurt that so many people don't like me because they don't want to be associated with the girl that has had so many breakdowns, the one who had a reduced timetable and who was always under constant watch of teachers. It's just difficult to maintain friendships when in my younger years I was far too naive and thought that they didn't mean their "jokes" and they were actually my friends, oh didn't I have a lot to learn. It's difficult to keep up friendships when some days my ability to communicate is so low I just want to stay in my room all day and even if I do socialise, I find it near enough impossible to understand different facial expressions and jokes. I don't really understand jokes at all, it makes social events incredibly difficult because everyone is on the same level of humour and perhaps I just take things too literally. 

Anyway, that part of my life is over but I wrote this post because I think it's important for people to acknowledge that my, and many others, school experiences were not plain sailing. I don't wish that I wasn't autistic, although maybe I used to because it makes up who I am and I feel as though if I hadn't embraced my differences, I wouldn't have become the person I am today. There was a point in my life where I felt there was no escape from the problems in my mind but I'm becoming stronger every day and I'm so proud of myself for that. 

Speak up about your problems, some people will be ignorant and rude but others want to listen and support you. It's 2017, we shouldn't be afraid anymore. 

Lauryn

6 comments:

  1. Loved this post! I'm autistic too, and like you, school was a difficult environment for me, too. Eventually I had to drop out of school and attend one for people with mental health difficulties because I struggled with leaving the house, and social interaction was a no-go for a year. I can't imagine how difficult it would have been continuing through secondary school with people who don't understand the needs that autism brings to an individual. It makes that much difference when you've achieved what you wanted to, though, and you realise that all your hard work and persistence has paid off, doesn't it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! Yeah it's been difficult but I'm proud of myself for getting through it x

      Delete
  2. I think life can be difficult, I'm terrible with social activities myself. But make the most of what you want, achieve what you want. Don't let anything hold you back at the end of the day. I think you shouldn't worry about sharing as post was great.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I agree about not holding yourself back.

      Delete
  3. This is perfect timing Lauryn. My son Lewis is ASD with SPD and is trying to get put in isolation in his provision at school so he can be stress free in a quieter, calmer environment. Your post has given me insight into his mind at just the right time this help me fight his battle with him. Thank you

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm so glad that this has been able to provide you with some insight and I hope that the school can put some suitable provisions in place for him. If you have any more queries, do not hesitate to email me: justalittlebitoflauryn@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete

Powered by Blogger.