“It would have been so easy,” Mum says, “just to say ‘oh, she’s Autie’, on so many occasions.” We’re talking about how Mum and Dad have pushed me through the years, not to be normal, but so I would do better on my own. We shared the same attitude towards parents who prefer to shelter their children, making allowances when there is a solution and understanding that can be resolved.
Those times Mum was referring to, when I would have meltdowns in public, when I was unintentionally rude; they push me through, make me stop and think about what I had just said or done. For them it was never about the diagnosis, it was about my attitude towards how I handled things, helping me build a toolkit for when I would need it in the future. This has come through a lot of conversations with my parents over the years, them judging with some psychic power about how I’m feeling and how far I can be pushed. The last blog, ‘Worn Out’, illustrates that Dad knew when to stop pushing me; although after reading it he reminded me I wandered off the day after, and because he didn’t know where I was, presumed I’d crashed again – possibly needing to be pulled away. I wasn’t, I was in the comedy tent when he found me.
Part of me hoped through writing about sensory overload that neurotypicals would understand the extreme way in which we process things, but this isn’t going to happen. After sending the link to a neurotypical, we had a long conversation on messenger about what sensory overload can be like. He admitted that although he would never be able to experience that in the same way, he’d like to help where he could. Proceeding to ask some very on point questions about the representation of sensory overload in a video I’d sent him. Realising I’d over-explained, he said he didn’t know what to say – which was why he wasn’t responding. “You do ask the right questions. And that’s what counts more sometimes.”
I’ve been brought up to stand on my own two feet, so advocating for myself has never been about making excuses. I mention Autism as talking points, as in ‘my brain works like this’; casually mentioning it in conversation. It has never been something for someone else to worry about unless they are the problem. My parents never talked about it with others, for them it was never about a label, they just got on and did what they needed to do without thinking about the label. Only when getting ready to go to secondary school did they push the diagnosis through, without me knowing.
On a walk with Mum one day through the village, she asked me about a TV programme that had been on CBBC about Autism, whether I identified with any of the traits. At thirteen the bullying had died off, but I’d still struggled to make friends; something about the way the girl had thought in the program made me think she was much more sensible than the horrible people I ran into in the corridor. It became part of my identity over the years in secondary school, to me it was a label like dyslexia, it only seemed to matter in certain situations – like in the class room. It was why the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) would talk to me all the time, about my progress and how I was doing.
Conversations with my parents became more frequent. They were about my social life, how I was doing at school. But most importantly I was building an idea of my Autistic identity in my head while I was still figuring out my own identity as an individual. The lines blurred and intertwined as I left school and went into sixth-form, it was a strength but something I still felt insecure about. I wouldn’t talk about it with friends, but would know what to say in certain situations; the practiced rhythm in sixth form gave me some sort of security that I had reached a point where I was confident with myself and the world.
But that was all to change when I entered the world of work. The long days and professionals not equipped to deal with someone slightly ‘not normal’ left me floundering and overwhelmed, the sense of identity that I had in sixth form was gone. But slowly, I was able to build a picture for my manager of who I am, what I struggled with and what was my version of ‘normal’. I’d go home and talk to my parents about my day, off-loading onto Mum who gave me the necessary tools for the next day.
Building such a sense of identity through talking to my parents, it was never about the ‘normal’ of other people, it was never about the fitting in; it was always about what I could do.