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My Daughter on the Autism Spectrum Needs Your Time and Connection

My daughter is 12 years old and is on the autistic spectrum. She is a quiet and compliant girl at school who wants to achieve. Her defense mechanism has always been to withdraw when things get tough in class rather than talk about how she feels, which leaves her struggles invisible to those around her.

She internalizes a lot of her worries and finds it difficult to express verbally how she feels. My daughter is distrusting of school staff and people she doesn’t know. It takes her a long time to connect with people and trust that they will help her. I believe this is a consequence of her being turned away and unsupported throughout her school life.

For my daughter, her anxiety is expressed by saying she has a “tummy ache” or a “headache,” and in all fairness to her, the anxiety she experiences does have these physical affects on her body. However, schooling staff in the past have not seemed to understand these ailments come from a place of anxiety. For staff, this looks like a child who is trying to get out of a lesson. So for much of my daughter’s schooling, she has been turned away or told to “sit quietly” and to get on with her day. This has left my daughter distrusting of other people’s help.

My daughter is now much better supported at school, but she is expected to access this support herself. As a consequence of past failings, she doesn’t access this support now because she doesn’t trust the school staff will actually help her. Why would anyone believe a staff member would support them when they have spent years being turned away, ignored and being told to return to class still feeling as miserable or as anxious as when they arrived?

My daughter often applies a blanket thought or rule across all people, especially when the experience has been unpleasant. What I feel is missing from the understanding of education staff is that my daughter relies on trust and consistency. If someone says they will do something, it needs to be followed through, otherwise she will not trust that person again.

Another need my daughter has in order to ask for help, is she needs to have an emotional connection with the person who is helping her. The reason my daughter needs a connection with staff is so she can trust them with her most uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. It is only with that connection that she can feel truly supported through a meltdown and feel contained and safe.

It sounds like an easy enough solution, but connection takes time, effort and understanding. Connection takes stepping outside of the box and relating to my daughter at a level that is accessible to her. Connection is something educational staff seem to not want to do because it means stepping outside of a “teaching” role and leaving themselves vulnerable, because to connect you need to care.

Understanding an invisible struggle is difficult for people who do not have experience of it, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t there just because someone else is struggling to see. I hope that in writing this, someone may benefit from a better understanding of how dismissing a child’s struggle can have a long lasting affect on their ability to trust and ask for help.

I feel that if a child is expressing anxiety, then it should be deemed as real and supported appropriately. By people caring and taking time to connect and find solutions, it positively impacts that child’s ability to trust and ask for help throughout their lives. All that’s needed is a little bit of time, care and understanding. The impact it can have can be lasting.

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Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s daughter.

Getty image by monkeybusinessimages

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