Empathy and Understanding are crucial to Acceptance, and that's especially important now.
In 2018, a friend tagged me in a shared Facebook post. I've spoken, loudly and frequently and publicly, about the lack of support for people who "don't look autistic" and the importance of letting us find our own voices and speak for ourselves, rather than having non-autstic people control the narrative and speak for us. As a result, I often get tagged in posts to do with Autism and support for autistic people, and especially in posts by autistic people sharing their experiences.
This post was a screenshot of another post, expressing the school experience from the perspective of someone undiagnosed, and therefore lacking much-needed support. A few of the comments detailed further experiences, and I decided to throw in my two cents.
When those two cents became something more like two dollars, I decided to write it up properly.
Not all of the experiences listed, whether here or in the original post, are universal. Most will experience many, but not others, and a few (if they are lucky) will have only experienced one or two.
What follows is my experience, barring the second-to-last paragraph, which I have not experienced, but have seen happen to far too many people.
You mimic the behaviour you observe, and don't understand why you get in trouble for it, when no-one else did. Why was calling someone names acceptable when the popular kids did it, but not when you did? Why could that boy crack jokes in class, while you, who rarely spoke, were told to be silent. It is days before you even open your mouth in that class, much less raise your hand, unless directly asked for an answer.
Class is an exercise in frustration. Homework even more-so. They teach you one way of working, and expected to use only that, even when an alternate method gets you the same answer with far less stress. What does it matter, as long as you reach the correct answer and prove how you did it? They teach concepts, and complicated symbols that can mean different things, and those linger at the edge of your understanding, just out of your reach.
English projects are a nightmare. The conclusion you come to after reading the text is not the 'proper' one. Your paper on how unwillingness to stand up to Powerful Bullies, and a sense of entitlement and superiority impacted 'Lord of the Flies' only passes because of the structure and sources. Other students write a paper that regurgitates the teacher's opinion about chaos in the absence of authority figures and ordered leadership, and get full marks. Wasn't the whole point of the paper to form our own opinions via critical thinking?
You are told to re-write your version of Juliet's suicide note because Juliet was a married woman, and what greater evidence of her love than to defy the world with written proof that she married Romeo, the man she chose, and signed the note as Juliet Montague? Your teacher disagrees. You edit the signature, grumbling about accuracy and the importance of Agency in Juliet's actions, but refuse to change the rest, where Juliet speaks of refusing a loveless second marriage after even a short period of a marriage forged with love, and being done with letting other people make her choices. Other students applaud, glancing at notes focussed on despair and drama. Your teacher still disagrees.
You know that school is important, that someday you will need to know the things they are teaching you, but so much of it is things you see no need for. Why do you need to name the capitol of every major country? You can learn it if it ever becomes important for you to know, but why now? What concern of ours is it how cells reproduce, or the life-story of the person who made a certain discovery? You aren't planning to study any of these things a moment longer than you have to. No one is willing to explain why you need to know these things, only to scold you when you can't focus and your mind dances away to dwell on far more interesting ideas.
People see you as 'other', as the 'freak', who deserves to be bullied and put down, and you wonder helpessly what you did to make them hate you so much. How can you apologise and earn forgiveness when you don't even know your transgression?
(Years later, after you are diagnosed and have a name for what set you apart, you will cling to those memories as proof that it was never your fault, while the ones who were your tormentors grumble about your inability to let go of a grudge. They try to make it your fault, again. This time, you refuse to let them.)
You leave school hating the very thought of higher learning, determined to avoid it at all costs, and with nearly double your class-mates' number of missed days, because there were day that you didn't have the emotional energy to face your own personal Hell, or when that day's classes were full of bullies, and you knew that this time the results weren't going to be as mild as picking paper balls out of your hair on the way home.
White lies had been explained to you as lies that you told to protect someone, and were therefore ok. You told a lot of white lies to protect yourself, over the years.
Maybe your interests re-ignited a love of learning once you realised that you could pick and choose what to research, without pressure and deadlines. Maybe you found a group of people who were like you, or shared your interests, and bonded over those. Maybe you learned to ignore what other people thought of you, and thrive as your own beautifully imperfect self, among equally imperfect people who don't expect you to conform to impossible standards that you could never achieve, and love you for your 'flaws', rather than in spite of them.
Your life isn't what Instagram and Celebrities and Talk Shows claim you need to be happy, but you are happy, and you've figured out that THAT is what is important.
Maybe you don't figure that out.
Maybe you spend your life alone, the 'weird person' that everyone shies away from, constantly moving from one low-paying job to another, because it's all you can get. School was too traumatic for you to face it again, even for job qualifications, or the course was so mentally and emotionally draining that you missed too many days, and didn't meet the requirements. Nobody taught you how to budget, or handle money, or about paying bills, and you didn't know where to look to learn. Life is a constant, ongoing struggle, and you frequently wonder why you bother.
You know that there are a lot of people like you who had even less support than you did. They gave up, sometimes permanently, or spent their lives as somebody's "problem", fulfilment of every negative stereotype.
Even on your best days, you feel like a failure. You wonder how long it will be before you join the ranks of the failed and forgotten Autistic people; just one more statistic on a page of numbers that will always be too high.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions